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August 2, 2016

Need a Kidney? Hang on, I’ll print one

It sounds like science fiction, but not according to Nano Dimensions from Israel. In collaboration with another biotechnological company from Israel, Accellta, the company has combined human stem cells with 3D printing ink. If they are pushed through 1000 tiny nozzles the ink can be reformed into human tissue.

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It’s being tested right now and to go from simple tissue to a lung or a kidney is a difficult process and unknown territory, but the possibilities of the technique to save lives with a printer are staggering. CEO Amit Dror from Nano Dimension stresses that Nano is not the only company working on bio printing, but the difference is the speed and resolution. “ nobody else uses inkjet technology”, according to Dror. “We’re the first to do it this fast and accurate.”

Before Nano Dimension worked with Accellta, the printing of even the smallest piece of tissue would take all night. “We’ve now shown that it’s possible in a few seconds”, Dror explains. “That means it will eventually be useable for commercial purposes, like in a hospital during surgery or to teste medicine on live tissue.”

The breakthrough is an accidental one, because normally Nano prints circuit boards for equipment from mobile phones to smart refrigerators. As the name suggests Nano uses nano technology to print the metal part of a circuit board using “ink” in which tiny silver particles are suspended. 

“We get a lot of requests to combine out way of printing with other projects, but usually we say no. We did not want to distracted from our core business, maar Accellta’s request was different”, says Dror.
Accellta produces stem cells, but the technique to change cells into tissue needs a printer. And thus they came to Nano. For months they worked together on this difficult project. “We had to make sure the cells weren’t electrified or killed during printing. Eventually we came up with a complete new bio-ink”, says Dror.

Different inks carry different types of cells. A third ink, one without stem cells, solidifies the result. “You don’t want a bunch of ingredients, but a structure that looks like tissue”, says Dror. When the tissue is printed it moves to Accellta for incubation.

When human tissue actually can be printed for use in hospitals is not certain, it takes a lot more research, but according to Dror, Nano is working hard on that, next to the printing of cirquit boards, which they’ll also keep on doing.

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