MINNEAPOLIS, Minn — The University of Minnesota is at the forefront of revolutionizing transplant medicine after receiving a new type of 3D printer called a “bioprinter.”
The bioprinting technology is the first of its kind on campus, and was selected among 20 labs worldwide from a company called Biobots.
In her lab inside the Masonic Cancer Center, Professor Angela Panoskaltsis-Mortari has been dreaming about this possibility for years.
“The breakthrough is the ability to bioprint a piece of tissue or a body part for a patient using their own cells,” she said.
The ability to one day print entire organs starts with a computerized image. She points out a model of an ear on the screen. It actives the printer, and by using bio-ink, ink filled with cells and protein, the machine printer does a delicate dance, bringing dimensions to life.
“So as you print layer upon layer, it becomes three dimensional,” said Panoskaltsis-Mortari. “So much like the way Legos work. I always loved Legos and puzzles and this is the ultimate puzzle.”
The lab’s first funded project will print a piece of esophagus to be transplanted into a pig. It could give hope to finding a solution for esophageal cancer.
“What’s important about this technology for people to realize it really is the future of regenerative medicine and will also be a part of what personalized medicine will be like,” said Panoskaltsis-Mortari.
Panoskaltsis-Mortari says the living ink containing a patient’s own cells could customize organs, decrease the transplant rejection and the transplant waiting list.
Other uses could be printing tissue for safe drug research, even printing skin for burn victims. Printing entire organs could be a ways off, at least a decade away, but she says she remains guided by a quote on the wall downstairs from her lab.
“What mankind can dream, research and technology can achieve,” she said, quoting C. Walton Lillehei, the father of open heart surgery.
Panoskaltsis-Mortari hopes to create an entire bioprinting facility at the University of Minnesota, continuing research for biophysicists, mathematicians, and biomedical researchers.