In the 1990s, scientists received a lot of attention for their work cloning animals (remember Dolly the sheep?), and questions were raised about whether scientists were taking things a bit too far. These days, 3D printing and its potential for creating artificial human tissue could raise some of those same questions. A number of 3D body parts have been printed and used in transplants and reconstructive operations.
Controversy and human-engineering factors aside, 3D printing is revolutionizing the world of medicine by making it cheaper and easier to build new body parts out of live human and animal tissue (such as cartilage and cells), as well as synthetic materials. The 3D printed parts tend to be stronger, more durable, and more lifelike than the parts they are replacing, improving the quality of life for the people receiving them.
A 3D printed nose, a jawbone, and even part of a skull have already been used in surgeries. And with companies like Organovo of San Diego making 3D printed human tissue their exclusive business, it seems the possibilities for how this could affect the surgical field are endless.
Click on the image below for a slideshow of some of the body parts that have been or could soon be 3D printed.
Researchers at Weill Cornell Medical College and biomedical engineers at Cornell University have 3D printed an artificial earlobe that not only looks like the real thing, but also can help people hear better. Researchers constructed the ear using a gel made out of living cells, which then grew cartilage over a three-month period to replace its collagen base mold. The ear was designed to be a normal-looking, functional oprtion for children born with a congenital ear deformity. Such ears are typically made from Styrofoam-like materials or from a rib harvested from the patient but do not look natural or perform well, and they involve painful procedures, researchers said. (Source: Cornell University)
I agree with you bobjengr. And if you feel that way you may be interested in a couple of other stories I've written about medical technology making things better for people...this one out of MIT: http://www.designnews.com/author.asp?section_id=1386&doc_id=259900
And this one: http://www.designnews.com/author.asp?section_id=1386&doc_id=254901
This is absolutely fascinating to me Elizabeth. I'm one of those that believes medicine combined with technology that can lessen human suffering is welcome where every found. I think 3-D printing usable in this fashion is a remarkable application of the technology. I applaud those medical practitioners and engineers attempting this application.
Yes, Jack, there is definitely preparation and even after-care, like the application of a material on the nose to change its color to blend better with the patient's skin after the surgery. These types of procedures, as they are new, are still undertaken with much care and caution but I imagine some day they may become quite routine.
Agree, JimT, the refabrication of live cells is probably the most impressive part of this work to me, as well. Creating these parts out of artificial materials isn't new, although the fabrication seems to be getting better and more realistic. But actually creating parts out of living tissue is, as you said, amazing.
Reading the linked article, I got the impression that there still might be some "preparation" for the patient. They mentioned how the ends are thinner and blend more easily, so I'm thinking that there is probably a bit of make-up (or similar) for the final blending. The primary benefit is that it is very close to the actual skin tone so the blending isn't as difficult and that the texture looks like natural skin up close, rather than plastic.
I would have thought that earlobes could have been prosthetically implanted like a boob-job. The silicon material was around for decades. Also, the 3D modeling and printing of custom bone elements (skull & femur & jaw) seems like a logical step. But the creation and printing of skin cells ( that nose ! ) & liver cells are truly 21st century, cutting edge, amazement. Those two win the prize, in my book.
Thanks for your comments, sdoyle. Re: the nose, I think they actually can treat the artificial nose with something so it can change skin tone, so maybe the person who has it can do that as their skin changes during different months. Or maybe, as you said, they can just wear lots of SPF. As far as the liver goes, it's not ready for prime time, but they did manage to 3D fabricate liver tissue that is fully functioning, yes. I found that incredible as well!
As far as the 3D appendage as body art...I suppose we shall see where this trend will take us! I can't imagine people who didn't have prosthetic legs wanting to dress up the ones they already have (as we can do that with clothes already, but the miind boggles...and you never know.