Scientists in Australia have created a soft robot resembling a snake that can print living cells directly inside patients’ bodies,
potentially eliminating the need for invasive surgeries to implant 3D-printed tissues and treatments.
Similar to conventional 3D printers, 3D bioprinters build three-dimensional objects by layering ink. The only distinction is that they employ bio-inks that have living cells in them.
Researchers are using 3D bioprinters to produce ear implants for kids with birth defects,
and stem cell patches to repair babies’ hearts and cartilage for reconstructive rhinoplasty.
Because a patient’s cells can be used in the ink, the risk of rejection is reduced.
3D bioprinting makes it simpler to create tissues in precisely the shape and size needed.
However, invasive implantation surgeries will still be necessary; bioprinting cannot yet replace them.
According to Thanh Nho Do, a biomedical engineer at UNSW Sydney,
“Existing 3D bioprinting techniques require biomaterials to be made outside the body, and implanting that into a person would typically require large open-field open surgery,
which increases infection risks.
The premise: Do is currently in charge of creating F3DB,
a flexible soft robot that could be inserted into the body through a tiny incision and then used to 3D bioprint parts exactly where they are required.
Our prototype’s flexible body allows it to 3D print multilayered biomaterials of various sizes and shapes through confined and challenging spaces, claimed Do.
How does it function?
The smallest prototype,
which was created by the researchers, and is roughly the same size as the endoscopes currently used to examine the interiors of colons.
The prototypes’ heads range in diameter from 20 mm to 11 mm.
According to the researchers,
the system functions similarly to common desktop 3D bioprinters and can be manually operated during surgery or preprogrammed to print a specific shape.
The researchers have demonstrated these functions in an artificial colon,
a pig’s intestine, and a kidney (but not in the animal’s body),
demonstrating that the soft robot can print bio-inks as well as serve as an endoscope,
electric scalpel, and water dispenser.
The developed F3DB was designed as an all-in-one endoscopic tool that avoids the use of changeable tools,
which are typically linked to longer procedural times and infection risks,
according to researcher Mai Thanh Thai.
“Compared to the existing endoscopic surgical tools,
the developed F3DB was designed as an all-in-one endoscopic tool,” she said.
The Road ahead for F3DB
Before considering human trials,
scientists will need to conduct in vivo testing on animals. If everything goes as planned, they anticipate the bot will be ready for clinical use in 5 to 7 years.
Once inserted into the colon,
robot could remove a difficult-to-reach tumour and then 3D bioprint material to promote healing on-site.
If the robot passes development, doctors may be able to use it to treat colorectal cancer, which is the second most common cause of cancer deaths.
In the future,
perhaps, instead of 3D bioprinting patches and then sewing them onto infants’ hearts during open-heart surgery, doctors will be able to use a version of F3DB to print the patches exactly where they are required.
The researchers also think the system could be scaled down for other uses.