HAMBURG, Germany – A joint research project in Austria has been launched to try to develop materials that "come as close as possible to real human tissue," which could lay the groundwork for huge technological advances from current 3D organ printing technology.
Members of the project include ACMIT GmbH (Austrian Center for Medical Innovation and Technology), the Karl Landsteiner University of Health Sciences of Krems, Austria, and the Technical University of Vienna (TU Wien).
Contacted by BioWorld MedTech, Nikolaus Dellantoni, CEO of ACMIT, which is based in Wiener Neustadt just south of Vienna, said that in the project "3D printing is applied to the task of producing materials that closely imitate biological tissues, and organ-like structures, in terms of their mechanical properties."
Limiting the demand for donor organs
Printed tissues, he said, can be used for pre-surgical planning, standardized for applications in research dealing with advancing operating techniques, for implant technology and for other medical devices, "One of the incentives is to thereby limit the demand of donor organs and reduce variability of the organs used in research," he said.
And in a highly interesting statement that no doubt will pique the curiosity of med-tech observers, Dellantoni added: "Due to the fact that the capabilities of 3D printing are rapidly increasing, this research can also be seen as a groundwork for even more applications concerning printed organs that might be possible with future technology."
Dellantoni did not elaborate on what those applications might be.
Significantly change the treatment of patients
Dieter Pahr, a professor of anatomy and biomechanics at Karl Landsteiner University who is involved in the project, also responded to BioWorld MedTech with an interesting statement about potential applications, saying: "3D printing will significantly change the treatment of patients in the future."
Pahr said that in the initial stage of the project, researchers will conduct in-depth analyses of materials and organ properties. They would then use data generated from the analyses to concoct so-called "recipes" that could be used by 3D printers to produce materials more closely like human tissue and organs than current 3D printing methods.
"In order to lay the groundwork for improved 3D printing of medical models, we will first identify the biomechanical characteristics that have a decisive influence on how practitioners sense tissue and organ properties," Pahr said. "Then we will investigate what materials are suited to 3D printing, their attributes and what lifelike tissue and organs can be printed.
3D test prints and X-ray microtomography
The next step in the project will be to use results of the initial investigation to produce 3D test prints of biological tissue, which will be analyzed with X-ray microtomography, other image analysis equipment and microscopes.
"In this way, we'll develop a computer model that enables us to predict the mechanical qualities of 3D printed biological tissue based on the choice of the bulk material and printable microstructures," Pahr said.
The team, he said, will regularly compare their predictions for printing with actual printing results. As the project continues they will constantly optimize the system.
Recipe for the necessary base materials
"Ultimately," he said, "we will develop a system in which we input the required measured tissue properties, and the output will come in the shape of a recipe for the necessary base materials and micro-structured geometry."
Dellantoni said that the project is being mainly funded by ACMIT and is scheduled to last until the beginning of 2021. He described his company as an "R&D center in the field of medical technology" that performs "all R&D steps from concept phase to the development and manufacturing of prototypes, including clinical testing, and further support of a serial development until product release."
He said during the past few years, ACMIT has been involved in development and production of three-dimensional models for selected applications, including models for pre-surgical planning or medical trainings that "were handmade and composed of different materials." Additionally, ACMIT has years of experiences with 3D printing, especially with technical prototypes, he said.
Come as close as possible to real human tissue
"Within the last year," he said, "ACMIT and partners – including the Karl Landsteiner University – were granted the purchase of a 3D printing infrastructure, comprising of several 3D printers – polyjet, ceramics, plastics, and metal printers – and started activities for the goal of 3D printing organ models, which should come as close as possible to real human tissue."
Asked about potential commercial applications, he said: "Of course, we hope to accomplish the above described project goals. We do see for sure commercial applications, but, as the project is basic-research oriented, not in the near future. There are lots of practical problems to be solved before a 3D printed material comes close to real human tissue, but step-by-step we will reach that goal."