Researchers use 3D printing to develop personalized artificial organs

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Researchers from the University of Minnesota used 3D printing to build lifelike artificial organ models that mimic the look, structure, mechanical properties and feel of human organs. Findings were published in Advanced Materials Technologies.

Current organ models use plastic to construct each model, which hampers accuracy in predicting what an actual organ would do during surgery. In response, researchers developed a 3D-printing technique capable of producing patient-specific organ models for surgical practice to improve surgical outcomes.

"We are developing next-generation organ models for pre-operative practice. The organ models we are 3D printing are almost a perfect replica in terms of the look and feel of an individual's organ, using our custom-built 3D printers," said lead researcher Michael McAlpine, an associate professor of mechanical engineering in the University of Minnesota's College of Science and Engineering. "We think these organ models could be 'game-changers' for helping surgeons better plan and practice for surgery. We hope this will save lives by reducing medical errors during surgery.”

Researchers began by colleting MRI scans and prostate tissue samples from patients to develop customized silicon-based inks that can be customized to match the properties of each patient's prostate tissue. Researchers then used the ink with a 3D printer to build the organ and attached sensors, so surgeons can observe the organ during compression tests.

"If we could replicate the function of these tissues and organs, we might someday even be able to create 'bionic organs' for transplants," McAlpine said. "I call this the 'Human X' project. It sounds a bit like science fiction, but if these synthetic organs look, feel, and act like real tissue or organs, we don't see why we couldn't 3D print them on demand to replace real organs."