3D-Printed Organs May Become Reality Soon As Australian Hospital Prepares First ‘Biofabrication’ Center

Organs and tissues fabricated by 3-D printers could become a reality sooner than expected if a medical facility and university in Brisbane, Australia, have anything to say about it.

The Queensland University of Technology (QUT) is building a center dedicated specifically to “biofabrication” at the Herston Health Precinct, according to an article by Engadget’s Steve Dent.

The new center will provide a “space where doctors and researchers can develop tech to model and print cartilage, bone and other human tissue,” Dent explains.

When the center opens it will indeed be one of a kind, breaking new ground in the field.

“It will be the first time a biomanufacturing institute will be co-located with a high-level hospital,” Australian Minister of Health Cameron Dick told the Brisbane Times in an article quoted by Dent. “Researchers, scientists, nurses and doctors will all be working together to deliver the best outcome for patients. Our vision for healthcare is that the biofabrication institute will pave the way for 3D printers to sit in operating theatres, ready to print tissue as needed, in our hospitals of the future.”

The new two-floor center will “image, model, and manufacture 3D patient-specific tissues under the one roof,” Amy Mitchell-Whittington writes in the Brisbane Times piece.

“The institute would have a wide range of capabilities across the two floors, including tissue engineering, clinical scanning and visualisation, 3D modelling and manufacturing, educational spaces and innovation hubs,” Mitchell-Whittington adds.

Organs and tissues fabricated by 3D printers provide amazing opportunities for the the future of transplant patients. Patients’ bodies often reject tissue introduced from donors. However, printed organs and tissues would be generated based off cells from the patient’s own body, which will naturally eliminate the rejection hurdle.

Some of the replacement tissues being produced by 3D printers now actually dissolve and are reabsorbed into the body.

“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 resorb over time and the tissue will grow even more and eventually the implant is gone,” Associate Professor Mia Woodruff of the QUT Biofabrication and Tissue Morphology Group told the Brisbane Times. “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.”

The technology is not currently advanced enough for printing entire organs and is limited to the production of simpler biological structures like bones and cartilage, Dent explains.

However, the work that will be going on at the new biomanufacturing center at QUT, along with cutting-edge research at Harvard, Wake Forrest, and other institutions, should bring doctors and scientists much closer to being able to produce entire organs.

“We are not going to be able to 3D print an organ tomorrow but what we are able to do is bring together the researchers, the clinicians, the patients, the engineers, the intellect and industry partners to be able for us to develop new technology to the level where it can be translated into the clinic,” Woodruff said. “This is where you are able to create these artificial organs in the future.”

In addition to eliminating the issue of tissue rejection, 3D-printed organs and tissue will also offer hope to those on long organ-donor waiting lists.

“Organ transplant lists are endless at the moment and we want to be able to help these people,” Woodruff said.

The number of lives that could be saved by printing organs and tissues rather than having to wait for a donor could be truly astronomical.

The center is expected to attract a considerable amount of donations and other funding to propel its research.

“This institute, opening in 2017, will catapult Queensland onto the global stage as a leader in medical innovation and technology that will change the face of healthcare,”Minister Dick added. “We anticipate that within the next five years, this institute will be attracting $10-15 million in investment each year.”

[Featured Image by NASA/Getty Images]