3D printing is making new advances. This week, a miraculous medical first produced a 3-D-printed titanium ribcage for a Spanish cancer patient after doctors removed a large portion of the patient’s sternum in connection with a cancerous tumor.
How do they do it?
The magicians behind the show use a printer which can produce solid objects from digital files using an additive process. This process creates an object by laying down successive layers of material- in the above case, titanium- until an entire object is created.
The amazing part of 3-D printing is that it allows things to be made without a traditional mold. This allows for small parts and details that may have been too difficult to manufacture, previously.
In theory, anything you can display on a computer, with a proper 3D printing file, can be printed.
So, in addition to ribcages, what else is the medical community printing out?
An article on Forbes.com outlines a few of the newest available parts. Many are available due to something called 3-D bioprinting. This sci-fi-sounding advancement allows cells to be dispensed from the printer, in place of the titanium above, which can be layered on a piece of material that’s compatible with the human body, and so in essence, it can create new tissues.
That’s right-we can print new human flesh from a computer!
Check out these 5 other printable body parts, described by Forbes:
1) A Heart Valve
Each of us has a unique set of fingerprints, and apparently, we all have unique heart valves, too. The benefit of 3-D heart valves is that they can be custom designed for each individual patient, and here’s an added bonus- they have the ability to grow with the recipient.
According to Forbes, Jörg Gerlach of the University of Pittsburgh has already developed the “skin gun”- a device that sprays burn victims with their own stem cells to treat severe burns, but the technology isn’t very good at treating deep burns. One of the uses of bioprinting allows multiple layers of skin to be sprayed onto the burn site, for a more effective treatment
3) Blood Vessels
A Harvard team has developed a method for making hollow channels in an organ, with 3D printing. Researchers can now build larger and more complex tissues with their own new 3D-printed blood vessels.
4) An Ear
Scientists out of Princeton have combined cartilage tissue with electronics, to make an amazing bioprinted bionic ear. These sci-fi listeners come with some enhanced features, like the ability to sense and receive radio frequencies.
5) Liver Cells
This last development is a biggie for both patients and medical research. With 3D printed liver cells, researchers no longer have to conduct clinical trials for medications on real people, but rather, they can discover how toxic and effective new medications are for our bodies simply by testing them out on 3D printed liver tissue. Forbes says this incredible development is brought to us by Organovo.
“This gives researchers the kind of tool that they just haven’t had in the past. They can’t do the kind of experiments on a person that they can do with this tissue in a lab setting,” says Michael Renard, executive vice president of the company.
Sounds like we are creating a new printable super-human. Transplanting real body parts is still a great ability of science, but who knows where 3D printing will take us in the future. Stay tuned.