Researchers at Carnegie Mellon University have developed a method to 3D print collagen and cells to form organ components, potentially paving the way for full organ printing in the future. The technique, called Freeform Reversible Embedding of Suspended Hydrogels (FRESH), involves printing collagen layer-by-layer in a bath of support gel, which allows it to solidify in the correct shape before use.
3D bioprinting has huge potential in creating organ replacements, for which there is an enormous demand. However, researchers have struggled to print organs or organ components using appropriate materials, such as collagen and living cells. Current techniques result in bioprinted constructs that often lack the resolution and accuracy needed for implants.
“Collagen is an extremely desirable biomaterial to 3D print with because it makes up literally every single tissue in your body,” said Andrew Hudson, a researcher involved in the study. “What makes it so hard to 3D print, however, is that it starts out as a fluid – so if you try to print this in air it just forms a puddle on your build platform. So, we’ve developed a technique that prevents it from deforming.”
The FRESH technique involves printing the collagen into a bath containing a support gel. The gel supports the printed collagen structure and helps it to solidify as it is printed layer-by-layer. The technique allows large collagen structures to be printed, potentially allowing for full organ printing in the future.
The technique works with conventional 3D printers, meaning that almost anyone with access to such a printer could create these collagen scaffolds. Patient-specific implants may also be possible. So far, the research team has experimented with using MRI data to create patient-specific structures that could perfectly suit an individual patient.
“What we’ve shown is that we can print pieces of the heart out of cells and collagen into parts that truly function, like a heart valve or a small beating ventricle,” said Adam Feinberg, another researcher involved in the study. “By using MRI data of a human heart, we were able to accurately reproduce patient-specific anatomical structure and 3D bioprint collagen and human heart cells.”
See a video about the technique below.
Study in Science: 3D bioprinting of collagen to rebuild components of the human heart