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Dr. Anthony Atala shows a kidney created layer by layer by the printer in the background.

The Emerging Technology of Printed Body Parts



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Dr. Anthony Atala shows a kidney created layer by layer by the printer in the background.
Terrence Aym's image for:
"The Emerging Technology of Printed Body Parts"
Caption: Dr. Anthony Atala shows a kidney created layer by layer by the printer in the background.
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Image by: Steve Jurvetson from Menlo Park, USA
© This file is licensed under the Creative Commons Attribution 2.0 Generic license. http://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Anthony_Atala,_Printing_a_Human_Kidney_on_Stage_%285507356887%29.jpg

A revolutionary technology—now in the prototype stage—is called the 3D bio-printer. Some day in the not-too-distant-future you might need a new kidney, a liver, or a spleen. If you do, your doctor will simply scan your DNA, enter the parameters into a computer, and then print out your new organ for you.

Technology already exists

The ability to print out solid objects from computer programs has been used in the plastics industry for many years. The technology's been adapted to print bio-material such as blood vessels and ultimately teeth, bone tissue and organs.

Although translating the technology from plastics to bio-materials has taken time, prototypes of whole organs are already being printed.

How it works

Cells are harvested from a patient's body. This assures a DNA match. The cells are built in layers with a thin layer of "bio-paper gel" between them—not unlike building a tower of Oreo cookies with cream-filling between each layer.

As the building process continues, following a computer generated model of the intricate bio-structure, the gel gradually dissipates and the layered cells join together forming a complete structure.

No risk of rejection

The human body's immune system is engineered to attack anything it senses as a foreign object or intruder. Tricking or battling the immune system has been one of the major ongoing hurdles of organ transplant medical procedures.

Because a patient's own DNA is used in the process, there's no risk of rejection with the 3D printing method.

Applications can be adopted to work directly on body

Burn victims needing skin grafts will be greatly helped by 3D printing. Devices can be built that will literally create and graft new skin directly onto the affected areas. The technology will reduce the pain and accelerate the healing process of nerves and skin tissue.

Such a printer is currently being researched. Designed like an old flatbed scanner, it would pass above a patient lying on a special platform and scan the affected area gathering data, and then make another pass over the patient printing out layer upon layer of new cells directly onto the burned areas. Severe wounds can also be treated in the same manner.

TED's incredible demonstration

One of the keynote speakers at the recent Technology and Entertainment Design (TED) conference was Dr. Anthony Atala. TED bills its conferences as a gathering of "the world's leading thinkers and doers" and Atala lived up to the claim.

He demonstrated an amazing new capability of 3D organ printers right on stage while giving his talk: he printed a kidney before the amazed attendees. [Photo]

Atala chose the kidney as an example of the capabilities of the powerful new technology because about nine of every 10 organ transplant recipients need new kidneys.

We can print you…or anything else you want

Until recently, 3D printing was a slow and cumbersome process. During late summer 2011, however, announcements came from the industries working on the technology that huge breakthroughs have occurred and the entire process has been dramatically sped up.

3D printing is being pushed into a territory that used to be considered science fiction. The researchers driving the high tech process forward now envision creating almost anything a potential customer might desire: body parts, clothes, food, furniture, toys, musical instruments…you name it.

3D Printing Experts Predict the Future

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More about this author: Terrence Aym

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ARTICLE SOURCES AND CITATIONS
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  • InfoBoxCallToAction ActionArrowhttp://utopianist.com/2011/03/3d-organ-printer-creates-kidney-on-stage-at-ted-conference/
  • InfoBoxCallToAction ActionArrowhttp://upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/commons/a/a7/Anthony_Atala%2C_Printing_a_Human_Kidney_on_Stage_%285507356887%29.jpg
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  • InfoBoxCallToAction ActionArrowhttp://www.rapidtoday.com/future.html