Tuttlingen - "Organs from the printer ?!": Prof. Dr. Ute Schepers from the Institute for Functional Interfaces at the Karlsruhe Institute of Technology (KIT) puts both questions and exclamation marks behind the title of her keynote at the 13th Innovation Forum Medical Technology. She reports on hurdles and perspectives in the groundbreaking process - and what role medium-sized companies play in it.
It would be a quantum leap for transplant medicine. One day it should be possible to print an entire organ from a patient's stem cells. "If that succeeded, many, many people would be helped," says Ute Schepers. The goal is clearly outlined, “the direction given.” This refers to the exclamation mark in your presentation. “But there is still a long way to go.” This is where the question mark comes into play.

The Karlsruhe professor came to the 3D printing of organs via detours. A chemist by training, she dealt with the question of how active ingredients have to be modified so that, for example, they can only be transported to the liver without causing side effects in the whole body. In order to have alternatives to animal experiments and to be able to achieve results more effectively, together with engineers she designed so-called “organs on the chip” - the smallest functional human tissue complexes on an area barely the size of a pea. At the same time as my own attempts to apply these cells layer by layer, "3D printing exploded on a large scale," recalls Ute Schepers. The institute was at the forefront of the development and is now one of the research spearheads.

There are still a few hurdles on the way from the miniaturized to the life-size printed organ. On the one hand, this applies to the substances required. Just grab the shelf and get started - the development is not that far yet. Accordingly, material synthesis is a focus. On the other hand, the printing process itself is an obstacle. "In view of the number of cells, it would be no problem to print a heart these days," says Ute Schepers, but given the weight. The lower cells die under the load even before the top layer has been applied. Unless the blood flow is already taken into account in the procedure.

It is precisely such “subtleties” that, according to Ute Schepers, speak for Germany as a business location. “The gloomy picture is often drawn that we are lagging behind,” but the specialization, the focus on accuracy, is very pronounced here. Outstanding preparatory work is done, for example when it comes to nerve integration or nanoscale prints. Skill in detail is a trump card in global competition - and an opportunity for small and medium-sized companies. With their know-how and good manufacturing practice, they are “the real drivers”, emphasizes the professor. Of course, basic research is needed, but the transfer from the laboratory to the application “only goes hand in hand with industry”. In many areas, SMEs made valuable contributions, for example in cell production, materials, scanners, software, printers, pumps, Ute Schepers lists a number of possibilities to find a niche in the niche of the future market. What is no longer possible alone, but only together. “The cooperation is very close and less competitive,” she says, looking at the innovation networks in her area. They could be role models for further collaborations in the field of medical technology - and the Innovation Forum a platform to forge such partnerships. So that question marks turn into exclamation marks not only in technology, but also in individual strategic decisions.

Further information, including the program of the 13th Medical Technology Innovation Forum, can be found at this link .

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