Transplantation of body parts may soon become a thing of the past: We’ll either regrow them or we’ll PRINT them.
The idea of printing organs has moved beyond science fiction, as the technology of three-dimensional printing (in which layers of material are laid down one at a time to create a solid object) has improved.
Although they can’t yet print transplantable organs, researchers have used the technique to build layers of cells into living tissues. These tissues can be used to test drugs (instead of using animals–or even humans).
The Economist describes one recent case, where 3D printing created an artificial ear for a five-year-old girl. Researchers Lawrence Bonassar and Jason Spector "scanned her ear and, using that image, printed a mold. They then injected the mold with rat collagen, which acted as a scaffold, as well as millions of cartilage cells from calves. After allowing the result to grow for a few days, they implanted it under the skin on a rat’s back and left the cells to grow for three months. This produced a fair facsimile of an ear, the same size and shape as the original.
"Until now, those who have thought about printing artificial organs have assumed they would be made of real cells" bit the next step will be to print: artificial organs made from artificial cells. There’s a major advantage to this: artificial cells cannot reproduce and become cancerous.
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