Incredible advances in bioprinting have prompted researchers at the University of New South Wales (Sydney, Australia) to develop a flexible 3D bioprinter that could revolutionize medicine. The device, called the F3DB, is capable of applying organic material directly to organs or tissues with minimal penetration through the body’s natural external barriers (skin and mucous membranes). Thus, the new development could potentially help doctors do without major operations and even organ removal.
F3DB is equipped with a soft robotic arm that builds biomaterial with living cells on damaged internal organs or tissues. The snake-like flexible body of the 3D printer enters the patient’s body through the mouth or anus, and the operator-surgeon guides him to the affected area using gestures. The device also has nozzles that spray water on the target area, and the printing nozzle can be used as an electric scalpel. The team of scientists hopes that someday it will become a universal tool for small invasive operations.
The printer uses three drives with a hydraulic system. The flexible print head is able to move with three degrees of freedom, similar to stationary 3D printers. In addition, the device is equipped with a miniature flexible camera that allows the operator to see everything in real time. The research team has already carried out the first laboratory tests of the printer using chocolate and liquid silicone. They later tested it on pig kidney before moving on to biomaterials. According to one of the leaders of the group, the cells gradually grew every day and on the last (seventh) day of the experiment, they quadrupled in volume. The F3DB has great potential to become a versatile endoscopic instrument.
The researchers say that this printer can be tested in humans in about 5-7 years. Nevertheless, F3DB is already able to significantly improve the accuracy and efficiency of some medical procedures.