3-D Printing of Human Body Parts Could Transform Lives

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artificalheartThree-dimensional printing has already begun to revolutionize the manufacturing industry by making it as cost-effective to create a single item as it is to produce thousands of items utilizing conventional manufacturing techniques.  The technology, also called additive manufacturing, uses a digital model to create a layered, three-dimensionally printed object.

Now, the biotechnology industry may be on its way to printing viable human organs using 3-D printers as well, which could forever alter medicine.  Scientists at 3-D human tissue development company Organovo start by building the foundations of organs like human livers with cells and culture, and bioengineers in labs around the globe have begun printing prototypes of human ears, joints, heart valves, menisci and more.

But creating fully-functional organs is no easy task. It’s not as simple as growing cells in a lab into ready-to-install body parts, as Cornell engineer Hod Lipson learned when he and his colleagues presented a fabricated meniscus (cartilage that cushions several human joints, including the knee) to a group of knee-replacement surgeons.

Growing a body part in a lab doesn’t take into account the daily “experience” of that part in life—the daily pounding a meniscus in the knee endures, for example.  The specific requirements of cells must be built into the growth process itself, depending on what those cells will ultimately become. (This phenomenon could also explain why lab grown meat simply doesn’t taste as good as meat from a once living animal.)

Lipson told Popular Science that bioprinting will require biologically sophisticated software in order to advance, which software companies are in the process of developing. Although it has a ways to go, bioprinting looks to be a promising technology that could transform lives in the future.

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