I’m A Genius! 3D Printing Of The Human Organs?

I’m a genius, or maybe my brain just thinks such radical thoughts that now and again I think like a genius. For those of you who don’t know, my graduate study at Goddard College consists of research that bridges the gap between the traditional studio and new technology. For a sculptor, such as myself, this technology is based on something that I call tradigi sculpting which utilizes both traditional and digital means to create artwork. My research is evaluating digital milling. Digital milling is taking my artwork, scanning it and then enlarging or reducing it to be milled out in foam, wood or stone. Digital printing is another resource and a technology that is quickly growing and changing. It is when a computer and a digital printing machine slowly prints, layer by layer, in 3d. What you end up with is a physical object. Yes, I know it sounds like the replicating machines on Star Trek, but this is not science fiction.

Recently I uncovered the work of both Sebastien Dion from the Center for Applied Technology at Bowling Green University in Ohio and Solheim Rapid Manufacturing Laboratory at the University of Washington in Seattle. Both have been researching and printing in ceramic. Solheim has even printed their ceramic “recipe” in the Ceramic Arts Daily, February 1, 2009, article “The Printed Pot.”

As my research continues, I thought, “It appears that 3D digital printing is all about having the right “recipe”. It is just coming up with the correct binder and the correct material to fuse.” This is where my brain started to go into genius mode and my research landed on what I’m about to share. I know that Science is using 3D printing to help them visualize scientific data. For example space physics simulations or molecular models that help scientists visualize proteins. This allows scientists a way to examine information in a physical way that has never been available to them prior to 3D printing. 

Science is also using 3D printing to print a medical implant that fits perfectly with a patient. The reason is that it is created from MRI scan data of a patient. ) Surgeons can also use 3D printing to help them with their surgeries. By having the physical replica of a patient they can practice surgery or see complications. 3D prints are also used in education. How about printing skin in a 3D digital printer? Just think what this would mean to a burn victim. Or how about replicating a bone with 3d printing? And doing so out of bone material to replace a patient’s own shattered bone? Because our bodies are symmetrical a left arm bone could be recreated by using images of the right arm.

If all of this technology and 3D printing is not fascinating enough, I thought, “If it takes just the right binder and recipe, is it possible to print organs?” I was afraid to even say it out loud to my husband, a medical illustrator, who I knew would at least hear my crazy idea and not laugh too hard. But with further research, I turned out not to be so mad after all. Indeed 3D organ printing is happening or at least being studied. Here are some journal articles and videos to prove it. This is absolutely fascinating! Just check out the video with Dr. Gabor Forgacs, University of Missouri-Columbia. He talks about how the bio printer prints out living cell clusters drop by drop that fuse together to create tissue structures. Have a damaged organ? One day they will be able print out the organ needed and do it using your cells! Perhaps the printer will print within your own body cavity. Yes, there is still some headway to be made with this technology, but the technology is here and on it’s way. My crazy thinking is actually genius!

by Bridgette Mongeon
At and Technology Podcasts coming April/May 2010

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