3D Printing technology has recently leapt into a new realm — we’ve seen printers that can create entire buildings out of stone, delicious meals out of simple ingredients, and now — perhaps weirdest and coolest of them all — a printer that can build body parts from cells! Scientists working on the Organovo NovoGen printer recently created the first “printed” human vein. This technology could replace other toxic and carbon-heavy medicinal practices like using artificial parts in the human body.
The printer is meant to be used in regenerative medicine. Instead of borrowing body parts from someone else — or yourself — the printer will just make a new part for you. The printer is loaded with cartridges of “bio-ink” a substance that acts as a kind of scaffolding for the cells to retain their shape. A sophisticated computer is linked to the printer that is pre-programmed with the 3D blueprint of whatever is being made. The computer instructs the printer to lay down two dimensional layers of bio ink and cells that eventually form into the 3D body part.
With the successful printing of a human vein, the scientists are looking forward to moving on to larger organs. Though the printing of an entire lung or heart is far off, the technology has been proven to be viable. In the near future instead of using plastics or metals to fix small arteries and heart defects, doctors could use real human tissue. Instead of borrowing skin or veins from other parts of the body to fix injuries they could just print some out. Instead of borrowing a liver or heart from a cadaver they could just whip one up. All they need are some healthy organ cells and they’ve got a replacement.