This is actually pretty amazing and could be a massive breakthrough for medical science. Yes, i know it's controversial, but it is the future, especially if we want to provide better medical care for people and make it cost effective and less invasive. Of course, it also seems a bit creepy to be 3D printing human tissue, but it's also quite incredible to think about in terms of how far medicine and technology have come. Thanks for covering this, Cabe!
So very often when we talk about advances in technology what we really have is an advancement in material. It's not so much that we have a new gadget or procedure, it's that we finally have a new material which allows us to use existing technology (a 3D printer) in new ways.
As a liver transplantee, I'm very much interested in these stories. When my new liver wears out in about 20 years, I'd love to get a replacement from my own cells and be able to get off the immunosuppressants I have to take twice daily which make me susceptible to skin cancer. It's been two years and I've already had to have two spots treated with liquid nitrogen to freeze them off.
Do we simply remove ourselves from the moral issue by casually saying, "though it's a controversial topic"? We have a responsibility as engineers to consider all aspects of our work. Yes, there are areas that though possible, interesting, intellectually challenging, and even "beneficial" for medical advancement, we must consider the cost. Destroying one human life to enhance another is not acceptable, even though it is technically possible and a really "neat" advancement!
To clarify--I read the abstract, downloaded the paper, and looked through the results. What they are doing is: (1) starting with viable embryonic stem cells, (2) putting them into a culture medium, (3) "printing" meaning using a printer like setup to form droplets droplets of cells+medium along with just medium to form (4) a droplet or blob which contains as few as 5 cells and is as small as 0.25 mm, (5) printing a grid (array) of these of various sizes and cell concentrations, then (6) inverting the droplet holder so that gravity acts on the cells and causes them to coalesce into spheriod shapes.
That's it. The "breakthrough" is controlling the size of the resulting droplets and cell amounts which would be useful in research work, and increasing the percent of cells which survive the process. No 3D. No organs coming out the end of a printer.
For industrial control applications, or even a simple assembly line, that machine can go almost 24/7 without a break. But what happens when the task is a little more complex? That’s where the “smart” machine would come in. The smart machine is one that has some simple (or complex in some cases) processing capability to be able to adapt to changing conditions. Such machines are suited for a host of applications, including automotive, aerospace, defense, medical, computers and electronics, telecommunications, consumer goods, and so on. This discussion will examine what’s possible with smart machines, and what tradeoffs need to be made to implement such a solution.