We’ve made it to the actual printing of the kidney! Let me just start by saying, I think I’ve grossly overestimated my abilities in actually doing this project.
Just to recap, I’m focusing on the process of 3D printing a scaffold of a replacement kidney for a cat. Sounds pretty simple, right? Wrong. Along with my computer deciding it had had quite enough of being functional, this whole process has been a bit of a challenge.
I had a model of a kidney that I attempted to print out so that I could take a better look at it. It came out not as a kidney, but rather a chaotic tangle of melted plastic. I wish I had taken a photo (it was a very stressful moment and my head was not in the game), so instead you’ll have to settle for a drawing:
So let’s take a few gigantic steps back, to properly explore what it is that I’m trying to do in the first place. Bioprinting is the process of printing living cells, often in conjunction with a scaffold that will melt away when the organ sets. It’s where most of the growth and interest is in 3D printing because it means you have an instant organ. That’s not what I’m trying to do though so we can forget about that.
What I’m trying to achieve does involve a scaffold, and is more commonly known as tissue engineering. If I were in a lab and had proper equipment I would use a high-resolution printer. This is because the scaffold should be made out of a highly porous substrate, that contains the fine features of the organ.
Before even thinking about printing the scaffold we need to take a sample of the patient’s cells, which can then be expanded in the lab using a little TLC (the right temperature, some nutrients and close supervision). When you’ve got sufficient cells they are transferred to the scaffold, which gives the cells a surface to adhere to. Once they’ve found an area to call home they can multiply and thrive, forming an extracellular matrix which involves a delicious mix of structural and functional proteins and saccharides. It’s important to make sure the scaffold is well designed, as both the structure and the composition of the scaffold control how the seed cells act and survive.
So there you have it. Some seriously complicated stuff. I’ll keep you posted, I’m expecting great things.