An Australian hospital is building a dedicated bio-fabrication facility.
While research has been conducted on the technology for a while, you still can’t go to a hospital and get yourself a brand new 3D-printed liver. The Queensland University of Technology (QUT) in Brisbane however, is taking some steps to make it possible in the future. They are building a dedicated “bio-fabrication” space where doctors and researchers can develop the technology needed to model and print bone, cartilage, and other tissues. “It will be the first time a biomanufacturing institute will be co-located with a high-level hospital,” said Australian Minister of Health Cameron Dick.
The new facility, which will be named the Herston Biofabrication Institute, will take over two of the hospital’s floors. “Our vision for healthcare is that the biofabrication institute will pave the way for 3D printers to sit in operating theaters, ready to print tissue as needed, in our hospitals of the future,” said Dick.
QUT’s vision of the operating room of the future.
Medical applications for 3D printing have been an exciting prospect since the technology was first developed. However, building a new liver is not like 3D printing a plastic dinosaur. Bio-fabrication is still very much in its infancy, but QUT, along with a few other places like Harvard University and the Wake Forest Institute for Regenerative Medicine are pushing to develop the technology.
Researchers have already grown (not printed!) bladders from human cells which have then been implanted successfully in patients, and prosthetic ears made partially from human tissue have been attached successfully as well. Building more complex organs such as kidneys or livers is difficult because it’s hard to keep them alive and supplied with blood for an extended period of time. For simpler tissue like bone and cartilage though, the applications of 3D-printing are very promising, even in the near future. “A lot of the implants we are developing, we can implant into a patient and as the tissue grows back, it is not rejected, the scaffold will reabsorb over time and the tissue will grow even more and eventually the implant is gone,” says Associate Professor Mia Woodruff at QUT. “We don’t always have to use metallic implants any more, we can develop really high-spec composite materials that dissolve as the tissue heals.”