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Bioprinting. Curing Diseases With Your Own Replacement Organ?

Updated on February 2, 2015
A 3D printer.
A 3D printer. | Source

Introduction to Three Dimensional Printing

Three dimensional printing is accomplished using a printer with a computer aided design file (CAD). Another name for three dimensional printing is additive manufacturing.

With the raw materials that are necessary to create the object in question, and the aid of the CAD, the object is made by laying down extremely thin cross sectional layers, one at a time, until the object is completed.

Three dimensional printers have actually been in use in manufacturing for several decades. But only in the last few years have they been able to greatly expand their efficiency, speed, and ability to create a greater variety of objects. And only in the last few years have they become available as home models for personal use. People have printed for themselves everything ranging from tools to clothes to toys.


The increase in quality of printers and their greater range of use has led to the pursuit of a very exciting prospect - the printing of replacement organs and body parts. There is a fusion science of engineering and biology consisting of collaborations with doctors and mechanical engineers.

Imagine living in a world where if one of your organs fails, or becomes cancerous, you don't have to wait months or years that you don't have in order to get a replacement organ. They can just use your stem cells to grow and print out a new organ. You will not have to take anti rejection drugs and risk their potential side effects, or spend the money they require. The replacement organ will be made from your own cells.

The company that leads this multidisciplinary science so far is Organovo. They designed the first three dimensional printer geared specifically towards bioprinting.

If you contract a disease 20 years from now in one of these organs, could the cure be as simple as just printing out a new one?
If you contract a disease 20 years from now in one of these organs, could the cure be as simple as just printing out a new one?

Where We Currently Are in Bioprinting

Bioprinting as of right now is in its infancy. Scientists are currently unable to make tissue more than 1 cm to remain alive and viable long enough to be put into a body. Cells that are not continually nourished with oxygen and nutrients die rather quickly. The bioengineering team is working on creating mimicked blood vessels to eliminate that problem. At the observed rate of progression of both the printers and the biological technology, it looks as though within the next two decades science will be able to fight a plethora of diseases on a whole new front.

Bioprinting and Cancer

Three dimensional bioprinting will not only enable cancer to be fought on the front of replacing an organ. It will eventually also lead to better systemic therapeutic drugs. If organs can be mass produced from stem cells, it will provide more viable organic models with which to study metastasis and conduct designed experiments. It will also be possible to create more than one kind of tissue with stem cells. Stem cells can now be inserted into printed structures that contain various reactants that can cause them to grow into different types of tissue. To reiterate, the main current limitation is getting them to survive long enough to finish printing an entire organ and implanting it into a body.

How long do you think it will be before medicine will be able to replace entire organs with printed organs?

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