3D printing | Reshaping the world of medicine

Have you ever imagined printing a human kidney or any other organ in real time, and not just in a piece of paper? It may sound like something out of a science fiction novel, but with the advancements in 3D printing technology, the idea may not be so far-fetched.

3D Printing – Reshaping the world of Medicine

While 3D printing has been successfully used in the health care sector to make prosthetic limbs, custom hearing aids and dental fixtures, the technology is now being used to create more complex structures — particularly human tissue.

The most recent success in the 3D printing field was recently achieved when Scientists from the Cardiovascular Innovation Institute in Louisville, Kentucky, were able to print parts of the human heart including blood vessels.

The finished product was called the ‘Bioficial heart – a blend of the natural and artificial. This new ‘Bioficial heart’ can be the future live saver.

Bioficial hearts are could solve the rejection problem some patients have with donor organs or an artificial heart.

How 3D printing works

A 3D printer works like a standard inkjet printer, laying down layer after layer of material. Instead of ink it uses plastic polymers, and places the layers on top of each other to form a 3D shape. Holes or gaps in the design are created by printing layers of water-soluble material, which are washed away after the piece is fully printed.

The cells naturally bond with each other, and even organize themselves spatially. A hydro gel, primarily made of sugar and water, is also printed along with the cells to help them hold their shape (similar to the water-soluble material used in industrial printing).

After the cells “cure,” generally 24 hours to 3 days the hydro gel can be peeled away.

The organ is then fully mature, and is placed in a basic life support system and further conditioned.

How 3D printing is going to benefit the Medicine world!

  • One major benefit of 3D printing is that the cells used to print the organ are samples of the patient’s own stem cells, virtually eliminating the possibility of rejection.
  • The organ will not wear out or need occasional maintenance like a fully mechanical organ transplant.
  • 3D printing eliminates the need for a scaffold (a basic structure) to grow the cells on, which most artificially grown organs require.
  • Another benefit is that the organ can be printed from a 3D computer model of an actual organ, and be sized up or down on the computer before printing- the organ can be customized to better suit the patient.

Though there are still a few limitations facing the 3D printing technology, but the future is for sure shining bright. With more and more research and findings in progress humans can soon be able to print bones and more minute organ details. The future of healthcare indeed looks very bright.

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