Kentucky-based software company Advanced Solutions has developed what it calls the world's first 3D human tissue printer that operates on a six axis robot.
Called the BioAssemblyBot, the machine is the second generation of 3D printers focused on producing biomedical materials intended to revolutionizing healthcare.
The goal is to 3D print human organs, Advanced Solutions president and CEO Michael Golway told CNBC on Friday.
The BioAssemblyBot uses a touch screen and a laser sensor to tell the robot arm and nozzle where to move and what to do next, operating on software called the Tissue Structure Informational Modeling. TISM essentially allows users to design and visualize the tissue structure before it's replicated by the BioAssemblyBot.
"The tools that we've invented, like the BioAssemblyBot, are enabling our scientists and our customers to advance the biology in ways that have never been possible before, so that's very exciting," said Golway.
The most challenging aspect of the process is bioink, the material used in 3D bioprinting. Bioink must satisfy mechanical needs of the printing process while containing the elements needed to make the tissue come to life.
Golway admits his firm needs to "fail faster" in order to see accelerated progress, and acknowledged significant effort, discovery and investment are still needed before an actual organ can be printed for human use, he said.
"We can print liver cells in a structure the size of a U.S. quarter and combine it with our vascularization technology in a 3D structure to get results that begin to mimic a functioning liver."
Advanced Solutions and its customers are also using the technology to create mimics for lungs, hearts, kidneys, pancreases, bones and even human skin.
"We're using raw material from the patient to actually create 3D structures outside the body. We happen to think the vascularization piece, i.e. the ability to get blood flow to the tissues, will be a really critical part and a foundational step to the long term advancements that we'll see in 3D printed organs."
While bioprinting could solve the problem of who gets to the top of the transplant list, printing human organs creates legal and ethical problems.
"We believe in the next five years, you'll start to see movement from the research side to the clinical side, where we're starting to develop functional solutions for the patient," said Golway.
"I can only expect that there will be a lot of debate and discussion around the ethics, and I have great confidence that once we go to the clinical side, it will be a safe application for patients."