3D printers can fabricate everything from cars to bald eagle beaks, and soon they may even be able to print organs and limbs. Biological printer manufacturer Organovo has teamed up with CAD software developer Autodesk to create software that will design and print living tissue. By entering the realm of bioengineering, Autodesk is branching out from the fields of industrial design and architecture into what could possibly be the beginnings of synthetic body modification and medicine.
Autodesk, the CAD software giant, is partnering with Organovo to become one of the first to generate living tissue from a 3D printer. Organovo’s NovoGen MMX Bioprinter™ works similarly to a desktop 3D printer, but instead of metal or plastic substrate, it uses a gel based material that forms a scaffold onto which cultured cells can be deposited. In the first stages of the process, cells are taken from already existing tissue. They are then incubated where they can begin to attach to one another. Afterwards, they are placed into a nutrient broth on a Petri dish where they continue to attach and feed. Next, they are sucked into a glass tube and into what is akin to an ink cartridge in the printer. With CAD script, the printer deposits the forming tissue into a desired shape one line at a time on top of a layer of gel. After a few days, the cells merge together to form something resembling real human tissue.
“Bioprinting has the potential to change the world,” said Jeff Kowalski, Senior Vice President and Chief Technology Officer at Autodesk. “It’s a blend of engineering, biology and 3D printing, which makes it a natural for Autodesk. I think working with Organovo to explore and evolve this emerging field will yield some fascinating and radical advances in medical research.”
As the collaboration continues, we can expect to see a host of new debates over FDA regulation as well as the ethical implications of print-on-demand tissues. Even so, it is exciting to see how the ability to construct living matter will benefit medicine and revolutionize the world of 3D printing.