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Biological Implications of 3D Printing

Dated: 15 Mar 2013
Posted by Conrad Wade
Categoiry: Healthcare, Technology

The concept of 3D printing seems to have seized the minds of technological enthusiasts over the last few years. Although the concept itself of additive manufacturing-or 3D printing as its come to be known-is not new, major advancements have been made that are allowing the technology to transition from its infant stage into a rapidly maturing market that could transform the way we as a society view manufacturing.

3D printing is simply the reverse of the typical manufacturing process. Typical manufacturing is subtractive where materials are continually stripped down and modified in order to create a final product. 3D printing, or additive manufacturing, continually layers a bioprinter_800x600material (ie. plastic, metal, etc) in order to create a proposed design. 3D printing allows a user to create a solid object through the use of a digital model or computer aided design (CAD). Using the blueprint or CAD, the user is able to in turn create almost any design through a 3D printer which transforms the virtual design into an actual product.

The technology has had a significant impact in the healthcare and medical industries. The technology has been widely adopted by hearing aid manufacturers who use 3D printing to create custom fit hearing aids for customers. Recently, 75% of a medical patient’s skull was replaced with a 3D bioimplant. The technology was also used to create a lower jaw implant for an elderly 83 year old woman. It has managed to evolve from what many view as a tool for simple manufacturing into a complex device that will be instrumental in the field of 3D bioprinting.

A fusion of 3D printing and biotechnology has created major breakthroughs in modern science and provided insight as to where the medical industry is headed. Applying 3D bioprinting tech, scientists and researchers have managed to create functional blood vessels and cardiac tissue that, for the time being, could be used for drug testing purposes. Rather than using plastic or metal as the material used in the printing process, 3D bioprinting applies human stem cells that are incubated and have the ability to adapt to their environment once printed.

The implications of this technology are momentous! Within five years the technology will be used in heart bypass surgeries. Many speculate that the technology will be used in creating organs for patients. This will eliminate the concept of having to use an organ donor entirely. Why have an organ transplant when you can have an organ created for yourself using living stems cells. Doctors and patients will no longer have to worry about organ rejection after surgeries. Researchers at Cornell University have already managed to create artificial ears for patients using a living ink built from human cells. The body accepts the implants being produced as if they are part of the body since in essence they are. The idea of 3D bioprinting is rapidly gaining traction in the scientific community with significant advances occurring on what seems to be a monthly basis. Within ten years, 3D bioprinters will most likely be a vital part of the medical industry.


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