In November of 2014, a Russian company by the name of 3D Bioprinting Solutions made a bold claim: they intended to produce the first 3D printed animal thyroid gland by March 2015. In March, they delivered on their claim, right on schedule, with their announcement that they had successfully printed a thyroid gland for a mouse. At that time, the company had not yet attempted to transplant the gland into a living mouse. This week, however, 3D Bioprinting Solutions announced that they have successfully transplanted functional 3D printed thyroid glands into live mice. The full results of the experiment will be published next week, but the company has confirmed that it was a success.
“We had some difficulties during the study, but in the end the thyroid gland turned out to be functional,” said Dmitri Fadin, development director at 3D Bioprinting Solutions.
They had hoped to have the transplant completed by July, but due to the aforementioned difficulties, the process was delayed. Considering the magnitude of what they were attempting, however, a delay of a few months is nothing. Now that they have transplanted a thyroid gland into a living mouse, the next step is what once seemed impossible: 3D printing and transplanting a human thyroid gland. The implications of this for the medical field are huge. According to the World Health Organization, 665 million people are affected by thyroid disorders, which are frustratingly difficult to treat.
One of the most exciting things about the potential for 3D printed organ transplants is the lowered, if not eliminated, risk of rejection. In a standard organ transplant, the risk of the immune system rejecting the new organ is high, so patients are forced to take immunosuppressant drugs, which in turn leave the patient dangerously vulnerable to infection. Add to that the fact that a large number of thyroid disorders are related to autoimmune conditions, so traditional thyroid transplants just aren’t done. 3D Bioprinting Solutions’ patented bioprinting process utilizes stem cells taken from the patient’s own body, which, according to Andrey Polyakov of the Moscow Oncology Research Institute, eliminates the need for immunosuppresants.
3D Bioprinting Solutions isn’t the only company working on bioprinting technology, but they’re pulling ahead of the others. Their process, which prints using the patient’s own cells mixed with a fibrin gel, is unique. The company also stands out for embedding microscopic tissue spheres into the gel, using them as building blocks for the new organ. The “organ constructs,” as the company calls its prints, have already been used widely in pharmaceutical research. If 3D Bioprinting Solutions is successful in printing and transplanting a human thyroid gland, their next goal is to 3D print a kidney, which they have predicted they will do by 2018. If they continue to live up to their predictions as they have done so far, I wouldn’t doubt that we will be seeing a 3D printed, transplant-ready kidney in the next few years. The United States may have won the space race, but when it comes to 3D bioprinting, Russia seems to be pulling rapidly ahead of everyone else.
Let’s hear your thoughts on this breakthrough in the 3D Printed Thyroid forum thread on 3DPB.com.