Manufacturing Living Things


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Industrial engineers lead research into printing new organs for transplant

MOST PEOPLE DO NOT REALIZE that industrial engineers are playing a pivotal role in tissue engineering and organ printing, a field that is striving to produce functional tissues and organs from patients’ own cells. The field is undeniably multidisciplinary since it requires researchers with various backgrounds, including biology, chemistry, biotechnology and engineering. The most unlikely of the fields involved in this research is industrial engineering, but IEs are developing and refining the various processes required to transform organ printing from theory to reality.

The research goal at the University of Iowa’s Biomanufacturing Laboratory is to manufacture organs from a person’s own cells, which many researchers think has the most promise in maximizing the patient’s quality of life. However, it should be noted that IEs also are working on other aspects of the organ shortage problem, such as improving paired organ donations. This is a classic supply chain problem, and positive results will help maximize organ supply and compatibility.

Challenges in organ printing

Despite the progress in tissue engineering, several challenges must be addressed for organ printing to become a reality. The most critical challenge, of course, is to ensure that the printed structure functions correctly. For example, a bioprinted pancreas must be able to produce and secrete insulin just like its natural counterpart. Another challenge is spatially organizing multiple cell types to form the complex architecture of an organ. Advancements in bioprinting processes, such as laser-assistant cell-writing technology to place cells precisely and selectively, are promising when it comes to achieving heterogeneous patterned architectures.

Organ fabrication at the University of Iowa

The Biomanufacturing Laboratory at the Center for Computer-Aided Design that is part of the University of Iowa College of Engineering is working to develop and refine the various processes required for organ and tissue formation. The lab provides facilities for engineered living tissue systems using next-generation manufacturing tools to build biologically inspired structures to replace diseased or damaged organs and tissues. Its research projects and activities focus primarily on design and fabrication of tissue replacement parts, tissue scaffolds, and medical devices, as well as on cell and organ printing. Industrial engineers work well in this area because of their experience in systems engineering, process engineering and multidisciplinary environments. The multidisciplinary nature of this research group, through both the backgrounds of individual researchers and through collaborations, has been the key to success in solving these problems from the industrial engineering perspective.

Future developments.

As mentioned earlier, this field exploits interdisciplinary research and requires expertise from people with backgrounds in biology, biotechnology, chemistry, medicine and engineering.  Although researchers are far from understanding exactly how cells and the human body work (biology), or finding the perfect biomaterial (chemistry), significant progress has been made in the sciences and in medicine for engineers to start piecing everything together. Industrial engineers have an integral role within this framework to develop and refine the new fabrication processes necessary to bring organ printing closer to reality.

The full version of the article is available in IIE Laboratory. It is also readable online for IIE member through accessing the website. Contact Maya (President of IIE BINUS University Chapter) at for more information on the IIE membership