A small Swedish company called Cellink, started just a year ago by a man in his twenties, is the world's leader in 3D bioprinting, a process that use special ink to print with human cells. Though its current focus is on printing tissue for medical testing, co-founder Erik Gatenholm hopes one day the process could be used to print organs fit for human implantation.
A former management student, Erik was first introduced to 3D bioprinters three years ago by his father Paul Gatenholm, a professor in chemistry and biopolymer technology at Chalmers University in Gothenburg.
Previously, inks used for bioprinting were mixed in the labs where researchers worked and unobtainable online.
The entrepreneurial Erik realised that there was a gap in the market for bio-ink, the liquid into which human cells can be mixed and then 3D printed. At Cellink this ink is made from cellulose sourced from Swedish forests, and alginate formed from seaweed in the Norwegian Sea.
Erik's printers and inks are currently being used by university researches in the U.S., Asia, and Europe.
But pharmaceutical firms are also increasingly using Cellink's technology to develop products, by conducting tests on bioprinted human tissues, potentially reducing the need for animal trials in the process.
Cellink's ultimate goal is to create bioprinted organs fit for human implant to help alleviate the world-wide organ shortage.
Many experts in the field predict that bioprinting could be used to create functioning organs for implantation within 10 to 20 years, a possibility that opens up a minefield of ethical concerns that are set to keep the company on its toes as it continues to grow.
Click the video above to watch Cellink's 3D printer create a human ear.