“Gentlemen, we can rebuild him. We have the technology. We have the capability to make the world’s first bionic man.”
Though focused on mechanics, the Six Million Dollar Man serves as a good introduction to the concepts, and promises, of regenerative medicine. 3-D printing promises to revolutionize engineering and many speculate that it could have a huge impact on medicine, too. Many speculate that useful organs grown in the lab three-dimensionally on scaffolds is now closer to fact than fiction. This creates much excitement.
Prizes are already in place for the team that successfully prints a liver, as one example, and transplants it into an animal recipient that survives. Implantable organs might be the most exciting promise, but others, such as producing organs specifically for toxicology studies, might be more practical and provide a greater impact.
The processes and regulatory challenges in taking this technology from the lab to the patient, however, are significant.
One ultimate goal is mass production of printed organs— removing transplant donor waits and minimizing rejection issues. But what happens after tissue printing experiments become accepted treatment options? How will these be taken from the lab to the bed side? No one knows yet. There are no standard process regulations, or even best practices, in place. Some, however, are starting to lay the foundation for automation and, eventually, commercialization— working to take a process that is very expensive and has a low yield and streamlining it to the point where it can be done cheaply and reliably.
North Carolina State University’s Edward P. Fitts Department of Industrial and Systems Engineering (ISE) is one group working to achieve this goal.
“It is one thing to be able to grow an organ but another to take that ability to the bedside, so involving manufacturing engineers early on in the biological research phase is vital to achieving commercialization,” says Dr. Binil Starly, associate professor of regenerative medicine at NC State’s ISE.
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Author: Robert Fee, Editor-in-Chief, Bioscience Technology