Scientists from the University at Buffalo have developed a rapid new 3D bioprinting method that could represent a significant step towards fully-printed human organs.

Using a novel vat-SLA-based approach, the team have been able to reduce the time it takes to create cell-laden hydrogel structures, from over six hours to just 19 minutes. The expedited biofabrication method also enables the production of embedded blood vessel networks, potentially making it a significant step towards the lifesaving 3D printed organs needed by those on transplant waiting lists.

“The technology we’ve developed is 10-50 times faster than the industry standard, and it works with large sample sizes that have been very difficult to achieve previously,” says the study’s co-lead author Ruogang Zhao, PhD, associate professor of biomedical engineering.

The work, described in a study in the journal Advanced Healthcare Materials, centers on a 3D printing method called stereolithography and jelly-like materials known as hydrogels, which are used to create, among things, diapers, contact lenses and scaffolds in tissue engineering.

The latter application is particularly useful in 3D printing, and it’s something the research team spent a major part of its effort optimizing to achieve its incredibly fast and accurate 3D printing technique.

“Our method allows for the rapid printing of centimeter-sized hydrogel models. It significantly reduces part deformation and cellular injuries caused by the prolonged exposure to the environmental stresses you commonly see in conventional 3D printing methods,” says the study’s other co-lead author, Chi Zhou, PhD, associate professor of industrial and systems engineering.

Researchers say the method is particularly suitable for printing cells with embedded blood vessel networks, a nascent technology expected to be a central part of the production of 3D-printed human tissue and organs.

Researchers have filed a provisional patent of the technology, and have formed a startup company, Float3D, to commercialize the technology.

The full study can be read here