3D printing of human tissue is additive bio-manufacturing accomplished cell by cell. Growing new tissue has many beneficial applications, but is the world ready for this science yet? People are typically afraid of what they do not understand. 3D printing technology has been available for a while, although for the home most people are priced out of the market. You can expect to pay around $1,000 for a home 3D printer but even at that price it will not do what the medical industry printers are able to do.
Printing new human tissue is not a simple task. So Frankenstein being created in the neighbor’s basement is still light years away. However scientists that have the equipment can and do create human tissue from stem cells.
Up until very recently the technology was really focused on creating artificial tissue that would not be rejected by the body. But scientists have changed their focus from creating artificial tissue to creating natural human tissue.
How It Works
3D printing techniques are widely used in manufacturing to produce items like toys, household items, and little statuettes. The print ink used in 3D printers is usually a polymer that dries into hard plastic. In medical applications the printer ink is made of human cells that are attached to a scaffolding structure that will dissolve with time as the cells grow.
The printer is fed information regarding placement of the cells and a “3D image” is produced according to the instructions. It sounds futuristic but this occurs every day in labs around the world. It is the new “must have” science.
The cells can come from something as simple as a human hair or as complex as bone marrow. Those cells hold the key to creating human tissue.
Organs (except the skin) are largely made out of different types of cells which makes them more difficult to grow using 3D printing technologies. Simple human tissue is easier to grow. Recently a world class bio lab announced that they have been able to grow human liver tissue, on a much smaller scale albeit but it is a step in the right direction. This announcement has propelled universities and research institutes around the world to step up their funding and their research for 3D printing of other human tissues.
The problem is not in creating the tissue, but rather, it is keeping it viable for longer than 133 hours (which is how long the liver tissue survived). Creating organic tissue that is functional depends largely on the ability to create the micro fiber blood vessels that support that tissue with blood nutrients. Without the working vessels the tissue will not survive.
Many people are uncomfortable with the thought of any form of human life being recreated in a lab. Perhaps it is fear of the unknown that fuels the view that this is far too close to being “God like” for comfort. There are plenty of ethical discussions that are held about using stem cells in 3D printing. Ultimately the benefits of this technology far outweigh the outside chance of misuse of these new techniques.
The End Game
Perfecting 3D printing of human tissue has many benefits but none more than being able to one day create replacement organs for people that are waiting for transplants. This may be off in the future a bit, but in the meantime this technology will allow for medical testing on human tissue and a better understanding of functions at a cellular level.
Related External Links
http://youtu.be/mEHeJl_7aBk – 3D printing of human tissue
http://youtu.be/_WXfisZqyp4 – 3D printing of human stem cells
http://youtu.be/0wPMPNyy4Mw – 3D-printed human cells capable of replacing animal testing