Bioprinting is an additive manufacturing process where biomaterials such as hydrogels or other polymers are combined with cells and growth factors, then printed to create tissue-like structures that imitate natural tissues.
The technology uses a material known as bioink to create these structures in a layer-by-layer manner. The technique is widely applicable to the fields of medicine and bioengineering. Recently, the technology has even made advancements in the production of cartilage tissue for use in reconstruction and regeneration.
In essence, bioprinting works in a similar way to conventional 3D printing. A digital model becomes a physical 3D object layer-by-layer. In this instance, however, a living cell suspension is utilized instead of a thermoplastic or a resin.
For this reason, in order to optimize cell viability and achieve a printing resolution adequate for a correct cell-matrix structure, it’s necessary to maintain sterile printing conditions. This ensures accuracy in complex tissues, requisite cell-to-cell distances, and correct output.
The process principally involves preparation, printing, maturation, and application. This can be summarized in the three key steps:
- Pre-bioprinting involves creating the digital model that the printer will produce. The technologies used are computed tomography (CT) and magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) scans.
- Bioprinting is the actual printing process, where bioink is placed in a printer cartridge and deposition takes place based on the digital model.
- Post-bioprinting is the mechanical and chemical stimulation of printed parts so as to create stable structures for the biological material.