What is 3D Bioprinting?
3D bioprinting builds on decades of technological advances of biological science, printing, and manufacturing to produce three-dimensional biological structures from raw biomaterials.
3D bioprinting is a type of additive manufacturing that uses biological materials (or bioinks) to produce structures capable of sustaining life. Additive manufacturing is a process that creates something from nothing. Think of a wooden baseball bat, traditional manufacturing (subtractive manufacturing) starts with a block of wood then chips and whittles away until a finished baseball bat remains. Additive manufacturing does the opposite, starting with a raw material, systematically adding it layer-by-layer until a structure remains. 3D bioprinting typically utilizes the additive process of layer-by-layer deposit of material.
Scientists create 3D computer models using medical and microscopic imaging: MRI, CT, confocal microscope, etc. These 3D models could be used to print structures from scratch and/or to add to existing structures. Further 3D scans and analysis can also be used to monitor print progress as well as cell/structure progress post-print.
A key component of human applications for bioprinted materials and structures will be the ability to vascularize the cells. Vascularization is the process of growing blood vessels to delivery necessary nutrients to cells: actually create living cells.
3D bioprinting can produce many structures and materials for a variety of use and purposes, including: drug testing, research and development, creation of tissue structures and even organs, bone and skin grafts, and more. The applications for such materials is only in its infancy, with a promising future for a variety of research purposes as well as further treatments and curative uses in humans.
3D bioprinters come in a variety of sizes for use in a myriad of applications from teaching, benchtop, to clean room. The most advanced 3D bioprinters use robotics and artificial intelligence to mimic how a human would interact with the biology. These advanced bioprinters have the ability to "change hands" allowing for full lab automation to provide researchers the flexibility to do more.