The topic of this article is either going to excite you or scare you. Well maybe both. Last week I wrote an article about 3D printing being used to recreate bones to be put into the body. Those bones were made with titanium and seemed to work well. But what if you needed more than just bones to be replaced? 3D bioprinting may be the future there. Imagine being able to print out a kidney, arm, eyeball, or eardrum. Well there are researchers working on just that now.
The 3D printing method used to make bones involved lasers melting titanium powder in thin layers. Most bioprinting is done using modified inkjet printers. These modified printers can move the cartridges not only side to side, but also up, down, forwards, and backwards. In the cartridges are living cells and gelatin like substances. The bioprinter “prints” out thin layers of the cells and gelatin substance until the desired part is done. Cells create the organic part while the gelatin substance stabilizes the part while printing.
Since cells that create the new part would come from the host body, rejection is greatly reduced. This also could eliminate the need for organ donation since they can be created. Theoretically the process can even converted so printing is done directly on or inside the body. Someday we might even be able to purchase a Hewlett Packard all-in-one bioprinter!
Of course all of this feels very sci-fi and Frankenstein-esque. Ethics, morals, and religion will no doubt be part of the discussion as this technology moves forward. Benefits include being able to replace body parts quickly and improve health. Drawbacks include mad scientist cloning and creation of a man made monster army. The latter being not as likely. For more on the 3D printing process read this article from Explaining the Future and watch their video below.