Creating body parts with 3D printing

Lawrence Bonassar, Ph.D., Associate Professor of Biomedical Engineering, describes a cutting-edge process he has developed in which he uses a 3D Printer and "ink" composed of living cells to create body parts such as ears.

Video source: Cornell University / YouTube.

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DR LAWRENCE BONASSAR, Ph.D., Associate Professor Biomedical Engineering, Cornell University: I'm Dr Bonassar, and my lab makes ears.

The invention that we've discovered is a way to print living cells in a material that can be used to reconstruct tissues in the body. My laboratory's interested in regenerating cartilage wherever it's found in the body.

The process starts with a scan of an ear. We sit someone down in a chair, and we have a camera that spins around their head, and takes a 3D image of their head. Then you can very precisely map out the topology of the ear.

The next kind of key step is developing the ink for this printer. This ink is actually a living ink. It contains living cells. It's alive when we put it into the printer, it's alive when it comes out of the printer.

The real power of the printing technique is that it can be used to make geometries that you just can't make with any other technique. You can make parts with holes in them, we can layer and cover and put different cells next to each other to create, really, the complex organs that make up our bodies. And after 2 months in an incubator, the tissue fills in and looks white, just like real cartilage. 

The implants that we're making are not rubber or plastic. They are alive. They grow inside the body or out. And this has a whole host of advantages over conventional technology. The body accepts these materials like it's part of the body, because it is.

Our long-term goals are to change the way that clinicians practice, to give them next-generation of implants that will be more successful, more like real tissue that will last in the body for decades.

Printing the future: 3D bioprinters and their uses

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