3D Printing repairs the most complex machine – the Human Body

The 21st century seems to be engulfed by the 3D printing revolution, with well known applications in the field of architecture, manufacturing, engineering and now healthcare. The new concept in the healthcare sector is that of bio-printing. Bio-printing is a unique combination of 3D scanner, organic inks and thermoplastics, which in turn produce a wide range of human body parts that are used in a wide array of medical conditions.

The world as we see it today was something that none could imagine a few years ago but now it all seems to be true. 5 or 10 years ago if someone who say 3D printing of body parts was possible, we would all laugh it out but now it’s the reality of today. As comprehensible it may sound today, 3D printing an entire body may only be a few decades away. This is a topic that is surrounded by many issues like spiritual, ethical and moral.

With the dawn of real body parts replacement, prosthetic body parts are a concept which is on the verge of extinction. Bio-printing is helping in producing a wide range of actual organs and living body parts. Some of the successfully bop printed parts are:

  • Skulls

In one of the most interesting reports is that of a young woman from Netherland who underwent a skull replacement operation. The procedure was carried out at the University Medical Centre Utrecht. She was suffering from a chronic bone disorder because of which the thickness of the skull had increased from 1.5cm to 5cm because of this she was losing her vision rapidly. If the replacement would not have been done then there would have been a lot of damage to the brain as well. After three months of the operation the patient returned back to work as well as gained her vision. Thumbs up to that!


  • Eyes

The UK based company Fripp Design and Research along with the UK’s Manchester Metropolitan University has materialized the idea of batch printing of prosthetic eyes. The company produces up to 150 prosthetic eyes in a batch. This process also reduces the cost of these artificial eyes as it is a mass production process. The process targets developing countries such as India who are interested in these affordable products.


  • Noses and Ears

Fripp Design and Research has collaborated with the University of Sheffield, in the United Kingdom, to produce facial prostheses such as ears and noses. The facial scan of the patient is used to print out prosthetics using pigments, starch powder and silicone. The best part of these prosthetics is that once they wear replacements can be ordered at a fraction of the cost.

Apart from this a team at the Cornell University is doing things a little differently. Its printing 3D moulds of the patients ear with the help of ink gels which have living cells in them. The printed product are then injected with bovine cartilage cells and rat collagen and incubated until they are ready in the span of three months.


  • Synthetic Skin

Ground breaking progress is being made in this field by James Yoo from the Wake Forest School of Medicine in the United States and Dr. Sophie Wuerger and her team at the University of Liverpool in the UK. Yoo is developing a printer that would print straight onto the wounds of burn victims. The ink that is being used consists of enzymes and collagen which once printed is placed in layers with tissue cells and skin cell which when combine form the skin graft. On the other hand, Dr. Sophie Wuerger and her team are making use of 3D cameras, image processing and skin modeling to ensure that the new skin matches with the texture and tone of the real thing.


  • Limbs

Thermoplastics have led the way in the development of printable hands, arms and even individual fingers. A South African company by the name of Robohand is producing affordable printable hands and fingers. The company is combining thermoplastic and aluminum/ stainless steel digits to create a mechanical and fully functional finger.

In recent developments Robohand has collaborated with U.S. entrepreneur Mike Ebeling on a project that is all set to produce affordable printed arms to war amputees in Sudan. The company has named the project by the name of “Project Daniel”. The team is all set to reach to the masses with cheap and durable artificial hands at a minimal cost of $100.


  • Bones

One of the most established fields of 3D printing is the bio-printing of human bone implants and now bone replacement. In 2011 researchers at Washington State University developed a bone structure using Calcium phosphate which was successfully tested on animals.


  • Breasts

At the Queensland University of Technology in Brisbane, Australia women with mastectomies are more than eager to use 3D printed scaffolds that help in regenerating breasts using fats. The process of Liposuction is used to remove fat cells from the stomach area which is then injected in the breast area.


  • Kidneys

The Hangzhou Dianzi University in China announced the creation of a small working kidney that lasted for almost four months.


  • Livers

The development of 3D printed livers is something that will definitely help many who are on the waiting list of getting a liver transplant. Dr. Nizar Zein, Medical Director of Liver Transplantation in Cleveland has started an initiative to develop perfectly working 3D printed livers. Until now, the surgeons in Cleveland have used 3D printed livers in more than 25 surgeries.


With all these developments, it’s foreseeable that one day the concept of 3D printing an entire human body will come true. As people start ageing their bodies’ starts failing and in such a case it is quite natural for us all to wish to make a younger body that functions perfectly. Some claim that 3D printing of an entire body as well as the components blurs the line between man and machine and also giving us the right to ‘play God’ on an unprecedented scale.

On the brighter note bio-printing has the potential to revolutionize medicine and the healthcare industry beyond our thoughts and imagination which seemed to be impossible some 20 years back.

Image Credit: wonderlane (flickr handle: wonderlane)


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