Bioprinting, an upcoming revolution?

Published on 25 July 2019 Read 25 min

In April, researchers at Tel Aviv University succeeded in recreating a vascularized heart through 3D printing. Even if the organ was the size of a cherry, the progress is immense, and research is getting closer to the ultimate goal of reconstructing organs. The field of bioprinting is booming as many applications are being developed. Alcimed, an innovation and new business consulting firm, analyzes the potential of this innovative technology.

Bioprinting: definition

Bioprinting is a biomedical application of technologies. It uses the principles of 3D printing to artificially produce living biological tissues.

Computer-assisted tissue formation is based on the assembly, layer by layer, of living cells and other biological products, all of which constitute a bio-ink. Actually, this technology could be labelled 4D printing since the dimension of time also has to be considered: through self-organization, the printed cells will migrate in order to create a functional fabric.Bioprinting is a biomedical application of technologies. It uses the principles of 3D printing to artificially produce living biological tissues.

Concrete and very promising applications in the near future….

If bioprinting is a booming field today, it is because of its multiple and promising potential applications, both in treatment and in research.

The first application of bioprinting is therapeutic: the creation of organs or parts of organs to be transplanted into patients. Two major issues are addressed: donor-receiver compatibility, which would no longer be an obstacle, and waiting time for a transplant. Additionally, assuming that the printed organs are not stable over time, they could still stabilize patients before finding a compatible donor.

The second application of interest concerns clinical research in humans, where the creation of an entire organ can be used as an excellent predictive model. The exploration of pharmacological parameters could be carried out in bio-printed organs and no longer in humans, hence simplifying the clinical phases of drug experimentation. By reconstructing pathological tissues from patients’ malignant cells, it is possible to explore their response to different therapeutic protocols on an individual basis. The end goal is to provide personalized medicine, allowing access to optimal treatments and dosages, thus reducing the number of adverse events and therapeutic failures.

As with human experimentation, bioprinting is also of great interest as a replacement for animal testing. This is particularly the case in cosmetics, where it offers an extremely interesting alternative to the legislation (dated 2009, entered in effect in 2013) that has banned animal testing for all cosmetic products placed on the European market. By recreating human skin tissue, cosmetic laboratories can perform as many tests as necessary without using animals. L’Oréal’s has already adopted this idea. In 2015, the French cosmetics company partnered with Organovo, an American start-up, which is a pioneer in bioprinting.

Finally, recreating organs is also an alternative for surgery training. Whether orthopaedic or visceral surgery, if medical interns had the opportunity to practice on bioprinted organs, the transition to the operating room could only be improved.

… which remain, however, hampered by multiple constraints

While bioprinting seems to be the key to several bottlenecks in healthcare, many challenges remain, starting with the cost. Functional biological printers remain very expensive and therefore the potential treatments will also be expensive. As it is often the case, this type of technological progress is not within everyone’s reach, which increases inequalities in access to care.

In addition, significant technical challenges remain. To design a functional organ, it is still necessary to solve the challenges vascularization, innervation and gravity. The vascular and nervous interconnection of the built organs is not yet controlled, nor is the loss of structure over time due to gravity.

Finally, bioprinting raises ethical questions at several levels:

–   Technically speaking, the use of embryonic stem cells remains highly controversial, while the main alternative, induced pluripotent stem cells (iPS), is still technically immature.

–   At the level of the concept itself, the future fear of transhumanism surrounds bioprinting. The misuse of bioprinted organs for the purpose of improving humans’ capacity and performance, or even for complete human cloning, could pose serious bioethical problems. This “artificial evolution” of mankind, if it comes into existence, will have to be strictly controlled to avoid its potential drawbacks and risks.

In this sense, a philosophical question arises: “If we can reproduce an organ by assembling cells, can we one day create a brain de novo, and with it consciousness?” asks Marie Rolin, Alcimed’s Project Manager.

This question shows the enormous potential of this new technology.

Reference picture:


Do you have an exploration project?
Our explorers are ready to discuss it with you

Contact our explorers >


You have a project?

    Tell us about your uncharted territory

    You have a project and want to discuss it with our explorers, write us!

    One of our explorers will contact you shortly.