Ricoh: The Future of Printing is 3D Bioprinting

Printing cells with a 3D printer that is based on inkjet-printing technology.

In a recent article for Newsweek, Ricoh Company – which launched its first 3D printer in 2015, the AMS550P for manufacturing and prototyping – discussed its current research that would bring its 3D printing into a new market: 3D biomedical printing, for producing, for instance, an exact replica of a patient’s heart.

According to Ricoh, 3D biomedical printing could involve repairing a patient’s injury with fresh human tissue or replacing a damaged heart with a perfect replica—one that was printed using additive 3D printing that’s similar to that used by an office inkjet printer, with the 3D printer ejecting and laying down layers of material. Ricoh envisions this technology as the foundation of producing functional, transplantable 3D organs and says it’s dedicated to making it a reality. It notes that the technology already exists to 3D bio-printed layers of living human cells, and says it’s successfully collaborated with Osaka University in Japan to create 3D pulsating cardiac tissue.

Ricoh explained that the core technology used in Ricoh’s inkjet printers is a high-precision, droplet-by-droplet ejection system designed to output high-resolution images. By applying this technology to cells, it might be possible to develop a 3D bioprinter to output functional tissue, in a manner similar in fashion to building a house by stacking bricks.

Manabu Seo of the Ricoh Institute of Future Technology also sees a future of 3D printing human tissue: “I am confident that the inkjet printer technology developed by Ricoh will contribute to the high-precision assembly of cells into genuinely functional tissue.

Of course, printing living tissue is not without significant challenges. Ricoh says it needed to modify the nozzle of the common inkjet printer to provide special conditions allowing cells to be printed in a fashion similar to printing with ink, and in layers. Inkjet print heads are required to eject the cells without using heat or other potentially damaging methods, and the cells had to be positioned into layers.

Nevertheless, Ricoh says it was able to develop and combine these central technologies into working cells, and it is now working on improving the precision of the cell-dispensing mechanism so that fully functional organs can one day become a reality.

“The concept of bioprinting at first seemed extremely challenging,” says tissue engineering expert Waka Lin. “But seeing the fast progress of 3D printing in general, printing cells is a promising idea whose time has come.”

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