EL PASO -- Researchers at the University of Texas in El Paso are using 3D printers to make tissue, including skin that could one day help treat wounds and other medical problems.
The pioneering work in the biomedical research lab on campus began with a simple idea.
“When I looked around the lab, I saw an old ink jet printer standing there, and I thought, ‘Oh, this would be great to make patterns,’” said Thomas Boland.
A decade of work led to the development of technology to transform patterns of cells into tissue using inkjet cartridges.
“You empty out the ink and cut the top off, and then we put a little tube in there,” said Boland, demonstrating how the cartridge works.
The ultimate goal: use 3D printing to create skin and other tissue.
“It’s 3D printing in a whole new way of thinking about it,” said Boland.
Boland and his team of student researchers have printed tissue that was successfully grafted onto mice. That work is under peer review and should be published soon.
One possible use in humans: treat patients with diabetes who have wounds that don’t heal.
“If you help them, that’s going to be great, because you can avoid the infections and amputations,” said Maria Yanez, a student doing post doctoral biomedical research at UTEP with Boland.
Using a patient’s own cells means their bodies are not likely to reject the printed skin or other tissue.
“It’s very important that people can heal by themselves,” said Yanez.
The research not only includes skin grafts, but also the development of small patches of fat that can be used to repair breast tissue in women who have had a lumpectomy.
Using the tissue in humans requires more research and regulatory approval from the Food and Drug Administration, which may be years off.
Even so, there is hope that by regenerating tissues, researchers can grow entire organs in the lab to help patients who need transplants.
“That would be a huge breakthrough, and that would help countless people, so that’s the promise,” said Boland.
But he cautioned that fulfilling that promise is the distant future. At this point it is just an idea.
Of course, 3D tissue printing also began as a simple idea.
“Something maybe out of a science fiction book, but now it’s a reality,” said Boland.