One emerging application of 3D printing is something called bioprinting. Although bioprinting is not yet widespread enough to have a commonly agreed on definition, Wiktionary says the term means, “The construction of a biological structure by computer-aided, automatic, layer-by-layer deposition, transfer, and patterning of small amounts of biological material.”
“bioprinters…artificially construct living tissue by outputting layer-upon-layer of living cells…In addition to outputting cells, most bioprinters also output a dissolvable gel to support and protect cells during printing…bioprinting pioneer…Organovo…was set up by a research group…from the University of Missouri, and in March 2008 managed to bioprint functional blood vessels and cardiac tissue using cells obtained from a chicken. Their work relied on a prototype bioprinter with three print heads. The first two of these output cardiac and endothelial cells, while the third dispensed a collagen scaffold…to support the cells during printing.”
A bioprinting article in Wired titled “Sir, Your Liver Is Ready: Behind the Scenes of Bioprinting” gives a great in-depth look at the bioprinting process. And this article in Gizmag talks about an application for bioprinting at Clemson University that isn’t just for printing living cells or tissue, but might be able to help reprogram cells.
When living tissue is ‘printed’ it needs blood to keep it alive. A couple articles on PHYS.org and on 3DPrinter.net from July 2012 explain how researchers at the University of Pennsylvania are using bioprinting with 3D printed vascular networks made from sugar to allow blood to circulate through printed tissue that is more than a few layers thick. It’s unlikely that any of the Rep Rap printers at the upcoming July 21 3D printing unconference in Madison, Wisconsin, USA, are going to print vascular structures like the University of Pennsylvania researchers did, but we do have someone involved with the unconference who is working on prosthetics.
It would be great if we could get a few bioprinting participants at 3DPrintingCampWI 2012. If we don’t, we’ll definitely reach out before 3DPrintingCampWI 2013 to invite people working on that cool technology to come to Wisconsin for our unconference. We also need to invite dentists or dental technologists and researchers working on or interested in using 3D printers in their field of work. Another bio or medical application is 3D printing of bones or bone scaffold material, as described in this BBC article.
When you’re spreading the word and inviting people to participate in 3DPrintingCampWI on July 21, don’t limit your aim to people who might make objects with ABS and PLA. Include people involved in or who could be involved in lots of unusual and interesting applications for 3D printing, and the unconference will be a learning opportunity for everyone!