3D bioprinting is an additive manufacturing process with biomaterials, living cells, and active biomolecules to fabricate structures that imitate natural tissue characteristics. Bioprinting differs from 3D printing primarily by the addition of living cells to non-toxic hydrogels that mimic the extracellular matrix environment to support cell adhesion, proliferation, and differentiation after printing.
The bioprinting process begins with 3D imaging to obtain the exact dimensions of the tissue. Similar to conventional 3D printing, a digital model is created with layer-by-layer instructions to make a physical 3D object. In order to optimize cell viability and ensure a printing resolution adequate for homogenous distribution of cells, sterile printing conditions are required. Depending on the application, the biomaterial, e.g. alginate, collagen, gelatin, or hyaluronan, to support cell growth is combined with living cells to form the bioink. Using a highly controlled, layer-by-layer approach, bioink is deposited with extrusion-, inkjet- or laser-based 3D printing technique. These 3D tissue constructs solidify by UV light, chemically stimulation, or heat for a stable growth environment.
Due to its high degree of control, 3D bioprinting has emerged as a key research technique for drug testing and clinical trials, functional organ replacement, regenerative medicine, and other bio printing applications for cosmetic and personal care. Researchers are actively developing new materials and printing methods for 3D printing in medicine to be able to tune the properties of the printed constructs and more closely mimic the mechanical properties of skin, bone and cartilage, neural, cardiac, muscular, and dental tissue types.