First of all, let me apologize for the extreme delay in this post. I had a pretty hectic introduction into the new year, so researching all this got put on the back burner. I'll try to get one of these done once a month from here on out though!
3D printing is making a waves throughout humanity. It's touching our lives in small ways for the most part and is still, mostly a novelty for most people. However, for people who need new organs, prosthesis, and even bones, it's a life changing advancement.
There are those of you who might be reading this that don't know anything about 3D modeling (the process of digitally sculpting an object in a 3D program) and those of you who do know their way around a 3D modeling program, but don't know how on earth bioprinting works – like me. With things like bones, it's fairly straight forward. They're a support structure that doesn't really have to do anything other than sit there and be...bony. But with things like organs, it's a little more...complicated.
When 3D printing things that aren't supposed to go into your body, the “ink” used to build the object is usually a nylon filament or powder. Sometimes, though, metal, wood, ceramic, and even glass can be used. But, when it comes to 3D printing organs, human cells are used in place of filament. Because the cells can't really take shape on their own, they're sort of pasted together with a water-based gel and collagen and laid on top of a sort of mesh that is the shape of the desired organ.
So, that seems simple enough, but it doesn't really explain how something like, a 3D printed kidney can function in the same way as a kidney that grew naturally in someone's body. But, oddly enough, it does. After the two types of kidney cells are put together with the “hydrogel” (the water-based, collagen mixture), they're incubated and come out as a fully functioning kidney thanks to the instructions that come preprogrammed in the kidney cells.
Because the cells come from the person getting the organ, the chances of organ rejection are much lower than those of people getting organs from someone else. Though I wasn't able to find any reports of 3D pritned organ rejection, doctors warn that it's still a possibility, as some cells – such as stem cells are sometimes taken from one part of the patient's body and used to create the organ in another part of the body. Unfortunately, our bodies can be pretty picky about what goes where – even on a cellular level.
Overall though, optimism is winning out. There are several success stories out there, such as Lucy Boucher – the first child to receive a 3D printed, adult-sized kidney, and a woman in the Netherlands who received the world's first 3D printed skull – a surgery that restored her sight. With these advancements – combined with the fact that 3D printed materials taken into space showed no signs of degradation like natural bones, we'll probably start seeing bone replacements in astronauts in the next decade, shortly followed by your average fella on the street. Who knows? Maybe you'll even see a real, live Major Kusanagi in your lifetime.
Murgia, Madhumita. "Toddler Gets World First Adult Kidney Transplant Using 3D Printing."The Telegraph. Telegraph Media Group, 26 Jan. 2016. Web. 08 Mar. 2017.
Eng, James. "Medical First: 3-Printed Skull Successfully Implanted in Woman."NBCNews.com. NBCUniversal News Group, 27 Mar. 2014. Web. 08 Mar. 2017.
LGilpin. "3D 'bioprinting': 10 Things You Should Know about How It Works." TechRepublic. TechRepublic, 15 Apr. 2015. Web. 08 Mar. 2017.