Invetech announced the availability of a commercial 3D Bioprinter. It's being distributed by Organovo to research institutions around the world.
What's a Bioprinter? It's essentially a 3D printer that deposits living cells according to a 3D model to form actual living tissue that can potentially be used inside living organisms. Typically a scaffold is used to hold the living bits while they fuse together, which then dissolves over time to leave the completed tissue.
Now don't expect to pick one of these up at Wal-Mart and print out a few spare kidneys and a spleen for Uncle Fred anytime soon - this technology is still very early. In fact, the Invetech device is being used for research in this area, rather than end-organism production of usable bioparts.
The printer differs from garden-variety 3D printers in several respects. According to the press release:
The printer, developed by Invetech, fits inside a standard biosafety cabinet for sterile use. It includes two print heads, one for placing human cells, and the other for placing a hydrogel, scaffold, or support matrix. One of the most complex challenges in the development of the printer was being able to repeatedly position the capillary tip, attached to the print head, to within microns. This was essential to ensure that the cells are placed in exactly the right position. Invetech developed a computer controlled, laser-based calibration system to achieve the required repeatability.
Invetech will ship several of the new printers during 2010 and 2011.