3D printers have opened up a lot of new avenues. From printing functioning guns, to food, and even recently to printing human organs for possible transplants, is there anything science can’t do?
Bioprinting has been in the works since Clemson University professor Thomas Boland used a standard InkJet printer to print cell matrices in 2003. Since advancements with 3D printers, bioprinting has seen far more possible applications. Since Boland’s initial creations, Princeton has successfully 3D printed a functional bionic ear that could not only pick up the sound waves you and I can hear – but could even pick up radio waves.
The Orthodontic Centre in New Zealand has 3D printed dental implants that have been customized to each individuals’ mouths and successfully implanted into patients and The Open Hand Project has made prosthetic hands for amputees at a fraction of the cost of traditional methods through 3D printing.
One drawback to the process, however, is that it is significantly harder to print soft tissues as opposed to hard structures. Since the process of 3D printing involves printing one layer on top of another over and over, soft materials tend to crumble under their own weight as more layers are built. Scientists are now working on designing printable scaffolds that might be able to hold the structures while they are being built. But so far, soft tissue organs have not been transplanted into patients – yet.
According to Carnegie Mellon University biomedical engineer Adam Feinberg, “We can take materials like collagen, fibrin and alginate, which are the types of materials the body uses to build itself, and 3D print them.” This will allow researchers to accurately match organs to the natural materials of a person’s original organs, which could potentially allow them to create organs like livers and hearts, and potentially cut down on the current transplant organ shortage.
This is the future, everyone. Already, 3D printing has allowed us to create custom implants designed specifically to a patient’s body. Soon, we’ll be able to do the same with more and more organs, offering cheaper and more convenient methods of caring for patients than ever before.
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