UI moves forward with research on organ printing

BY MICHELLE KIM | MARCH 01, 2013 5:00 AM

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Soon, patients may no longer need to wait until for donors to secure an organ transplant.

The University of Iowa Mechanical and Industrial Department is conducting research on organ printing, a technology that one day may make it possible to print human tissue and entire organs. The UI is home to the only multi-arm bio printer in the world.

Once organ fabrication is developed, struggling with organ shortages and  long waiting lists may be a thing of the past.

Students from five different fields —biology, chemistry, medicine, engineering, and biotechnology — combine their skills.

“Instead of using non-biocompatible materials, we use bio-ink that we can use to print,” said Ibrahim Ozbolat, a UI assistant professor of industrial engineering. “And again, we use the same principles and same strategies when printing living cells.”

Ozbolat said the primary goal for his research at the UI is to manufacture blood-vessel systems.

“The blood-vessel system is crucial because it transports all the [cell growth] media, it transports oxygen, nutrients, ingrowth factors to the cells,” he said. “Making something that is branching into channels is very difficult, and I haven’t seen any research that has a successful result with manufacturing branching tubes.”

Ozbolat also introduced the only multi-arm bio printer, which uses numerous arms that move independently to print different structures.

Howard Chen, a UI graduate student in industrial engineering and the designer of the multi-arm bio printer, said it took him about a semester to get it from conception to actually manufacturing.

Howard said he considers organ printing as a subset in the tissue-engineering field because the research itself uses tissues and reconstructs them.

The researchers at the UI use the patient’s own cell to make new organs that are more biocompatible with the patient’s body.

With this process, it will make it much easier to treat patients and reduce the number of patient deaths as well.

Organ printing works through rapid prototyping, technology to print cells, biomaterials, and cell-laden biomaterials either individually or together, which creates a three dimensional tissue-like structure.

Rapid prototyping is a process that manufactures layers, starting from the bottom towards the top, and creates a structure in between. This technique has been around since the early 1990s and has been used in different fields.

In the field of art, Mark Ginsberg, an art dealer and owner of  M. C. Ginsberg, 110 E. Washington St., uses 3D prototyping skills to make pieces of art of models of deadly pathogens, such as HIV, influenzas, and more.

“It’s exciting to be able to look at every element on this planet, inanimate and animate, and think of what would it look like large?” Ginsberg said. “It’s the idea of creating something that you wouldn’t normally think about wearing and you would think about not necessarily being beautiful, but it is.”

One researcher says the organ printing technology is more specialized.

“Organ printing is more specific than bio-printing,” said Yin Yu, a graduate student in biomedical engineering. “We’re specifically building parts instead of simply a cell. The most important part is that we want to make it into both tissue and organ, not just making cells.”

Though, as being a young field, there are some difficulties.

“It’s still a very new field,” Chen said. “So there’s a lot fewer researchers and a lot less we can rely on. It’s a more challenging air.”

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