It always starts off as a dream. To change the world. A dream so big, that nobody thought it possible. That is what Associate Professor Mia Woodruff, from Queensland University of Technology’s Biomaterials and Tissue Morphology Group has. A dream so big that even today people will doubt it to be possible. What is the dream you ask? The dream is to be able to print out human body parts.
In one possible scenario, there is a major car crash. People are severely injured. As the victims are removed from the wreckage, they are 3D scanned with a portable scanner. Doctors at the hospital receive the 3D model and begin creating new skin and bone using onsite 3D printers while the patients are in transit. Once the patients get into theatre, doctors and surgeons are able to patch each person up with custom tissue, skin and bone.
That, is the dream Mia and her team have.
“Biofabrication is making tremendous progress owing to technological advancements in 3D printing … Adding a biological/living complexity to a rapid prototyping technique has many obstacles to overcome such as maintaining sterility and also cost hurdles associated with using FDA approved high purity biomaterials. That said, groups are making tremendous progress in printing cells within hydrogels for cartilage repair and for many years 3D printed PCL (polycaprolactone) scaffolds have been utilised in the clinic for cranial application.” – Associate Professor Mia Woodruff
To make that dream come true, there is still a lot to be done. Building on their success thus far, the team need to address issues of reproducibility and sterility. A requirement for this is a one step process to grow and integrate their scaffolds with cells and taking into account growth factors. Part of this work will require the collaboration between teams of materials scientists, biologists, engineers, clinicians and mathematical modelers.
Mia’s team focus on technology development, creating structures through their custom 3D printers. As part of this, they have developed their own code enabling medical data to be translated into 3D maps of the injured tissue. One of most exciting parts of her research, is that not only do they create structures from fibres smaller than the human hair, but all the way up in size to that of large 3D constructs.