Can bio-ink address the shortage of donor organs?


BIO INX, a new spin-off from Ghent University and the VUB, is working on a bio-ink that can be used to 3D-print complex structures such as organs and human tissue based on stem cells.

With this innovative technique, the subsidiary company of Ghent University and the Vrije Universiteit Brussel (VUB) in Zwijnaarde wants to try and address the acute shortage of donor organs. Producing human 'spare parts' using a 3D printer. Compare the fabric to a wall, the cells to the bricks and the bio-ink to the mortar in between. The bio-ink makes the cells printable and allows them to grow afterwards. The foreign materials are gradually broken down and they dissolve until, finally, only pure tissue remains.

Recently in the US, on a trial basis, a dozen patients were given a 3D printed auricle from their own cells. However, we are not yet ready for printed versions of complex organs such as a heart or a liver. For now, we can make do with tissues in the lab. These are proving useful anyway for research into organ printing, or for testing drugs or cosmetics on to replace animal testing.

Until the technology has been fully developed and the corresponding legal framework has been created, we can look forward in the meantime to a gradual reduction in the number of people on waiting lists for an organ in the future.