Who would have thought that a technology that’s developed to change the way prototyping industry works would one day be used to save lives. The use of 3d printing technology in the field of healthcare is becoming main stream very rapidly. We have seen many instances where 3d printed titanium parts have been used as implants and 3d printed models of patients body parts being used as a simulation tool to pre-empt situations that could arise during complex operation. Doctors and biomedical engineers are now exploring the possibility of making body parts and tissues using human fluids and 3d printers.
One such ambitious team of biomedical engineering from the Binghamton University in New York State is working on 3D printing functional 3D models of the pancreas, which can be used as vessels in which crucial cells can be ‘grown’. The revolutionary research is being headed by professors Kaiming Ye and Sha Jin.
Pancreas, are organs which secrets pancreatic juice containing digestive enzymes that assist digestion and absorption of nutrients in the small intestine. Pancreas is also the organ which produces insulin, one of the main hormones that helps to regulate blood glucose levels. The professors from Binghamton University, plan to use implantation of cells grown inside the 3d printed pancreas to cure diseases like diabetes.
Professor Kaiming Ye explains, 3D printing is a key instrument in realizing this ambitious plan. While scientists have previously been very successful in growing cells in laboratories, the cell cultures necessary for a lot of applications grow on a 3D scale, rather than the 2D of a petri dish environment. The 3D printing of a functional environment resembling real human organs (in this case the pancreas) could give scientists a 3D printed factory of necessary cells.
Talking about the use of this 3D printed Pancreas in the cure for Diabetes Professor Ye said “The most efficient treatment for diabetes is islet (Insulin) transplantations. However, because of the scarcity of donors, islet transplantations are not available to the majority of diabetic patients.” He further added that the printed Pancreas could solve this problem forever.
The project sounds too good to be true and it will take some time before the team from Binghamton University taste any success. To make the 3d printed pancreas a reality the team would need to make major breakthroughs like printing living organs. If that’s not enough they would also find a way to manufacture the magic potion that is capable of producing the pure islet cells needed to manufacture insulin.
The Project is challenging but the team is hopeful and so is National Science Foundation which has donated $300,000 as grant to make this project a reality. Ye said 'the number of diabetes patients goes up every year, so the prevalence of diabetes is a big problem; this research could provide an unlimited cell source for islet transplantation.’ This project is certainly a ray of hope for the 382 million people across the globe who suffers from different stages of diabetes.