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!
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.
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.
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!
Your point is well taken, gaga1017, but as journalists, it's not our place to judge morally whether something is good or bad. Of course engineers all have to make the decisions for themselves whether they want to take part in some type of research or not based on moral or even religious beliefs. But what Cabe did in this article was to report on something innovative that is happening in the field of 3D printing and medicine. Our readers here at Design News are largely engineers, so this was meant to be informative to them, not make any judgment on the activity itself. That is up to the people involved, I would think.
I certainly agree with the comments Elizabeth made. Cabe is merely reporting on a very fascinating advancement in 3-D printing. I really don't think it's our place here to moralize. I personally feel if technology can allieviate any human suffering for the living it's appropriate to investigate. I have one friend who suffers from chronic back pain due to a car wreck had several years ago. After four major surgeries, stem cell research is his only real option for lessening of the pain. This could be a great application for existing and improving technology.
Sometimes tech like this never gets out of the development stage. To jump the gun and raise flags, whatever cliché, over the content usually doesn't matter. People exploit others for organs daily. Sometime against their will. I am sure that is happening with stem-cells too. Perhaps there are "evil scientists" out there willing to take the cells, we just don't know. Though, state sponsorship of organ/cell harvesting will never happen here in the USA, so feel safe.
However, somehow this research needs to take place for humanities ultimate benefit... how to go about it will be tricky.
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.
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