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    3D printed transplantable human ear

    Research team led by Anthony Atala from Wake Forest Institute for Regenerative Medicine has unveiled the Integrated Tissue and Organ Printing System (ITOP). Once refined and proven safe in humans, these 3D bioprinted structures could be used to replace injured, missing, or diseased tissue in patients. And because they’re designed in a computer, these replacement parts will be made to order to meet the unique needs of each patient. The details of this breakthrough were published today on Feb. 15th in Nature Biotechnology.
    Researchers have printed with live cells before, but until now they only made tiny pieces of gelatinous living material, both because large structures tended to collapse and because the cells inside tended to die from lack of oxygen. Thanks to two innovations, ITOP can make life-sized body parts in which cells thrive. First, it interweaves a gooey, cell-friendly hydrogel with a stiffer substance that offers structural support. Second, it leaves tiny channels for oxygen to enter so that cells in the middle won’t suffocate. When researchers implanted ITOP-generated bone, muscle, and cartilage into rats and mice, the printed materials developed blood supplies and internal structures resembling those of natural tissue. The researchers are currently working with the Food and Drug Administration to set up human trials, with the ultimate goal of creating replacement body parts for people who need them.