But there are limitations to the technology which is holding back breakthroughs such as the ability to grow an entire organ. Studies have found that it is very difficult to actually print the cells at the same time as making the structure that will house them. The stress on the cell as it goes through both the inkjet and laser process can damage the cell membrane. Cell survival rates have also been variable, ranging from between 40 to 95%.
The technology is also some way off progressing from an experimental platform to clinical practice. Whilst scaffolds are being clinically trialled, actually transplanting cells grown in an external structure into a patient is a more advanced process. It is still not possible at present to guarantee a consistent quality, which is required by medical device regulations.
But research is being carried out to grow external cells into tissue, such as a patch of skin, and transplant that into a patient. Professor Derby is currently working with Ear, Nose and Throat surgeons at the Manchester Royal Infirmary. He wants to use bioprinting to print cells without using a scaffold. The printed cells form a sheet that can be used for grafts inside the body, for example in the mouth or nose.
Professor Derby says: "It is very difficult to transplant even a small patch of tissue to repair the inside of the nose or mouth. Current practice, to transplant the patient's skin to these areas, is regarded as unsatisfactory because the transplants do not possess mucous generating cells or salivary glands. We are working on techniques to print sheets of cells that are suitable for implantation in the mouth and nose."
One area which Professor Derby's review article highlights for the future is the ability to grow structures which can model cancerous tumours. These could then be used to test new drugs, which it's hoped will advance the search for
|Contact: Daniel Cochlin|
University of Manchester