3D printing physical objects is a remarkable technology all its own. To go from an idea to sold matter in the span of a few hours is a paradigm shift in manufacturing.
What about 3D printing living tissue? In the movie ‘The 5th Element’, Lelu is 3D printed in a chamber that combines FDM, SLS, and LOM printing technologies from a few surviving cells. The final result is a perfect genetic clone of the original Lelu.
While this technology is a few decades away, 3D bio printing is not a new technology.
3D Printed Tissues
The main application for 3D bio printing is tissues and major organs. There are millions of people in need of an organ transplant. Thousands die every year without finding a tissue type match.
But with 3D bio printing, organ transplants can be a thing of the past. Instead of trying to find a matching organ from a donor, you can now 3D bio print it from your own healthy cells.
The University of Wakefield is already pioneering this technology. They have produced skin and artery grafts that are clones of the person. The skin grafts alone may save thousands of burn victims lives. Instead of undergoing a painful skin grafting procedure, new skin can simply be 3D bio printed in a lab.
The arteries can help people that have heart bypass as well. Instead of cutting the replacement artery out of the leg, a 3D bio printed artery made in the lab can be inserted into the heart instead.
Bio printing organs will be the next major milestone in custom medicine. Already a kidney has been bio printed. Wakefield is currently working on FDA approval for 3D printed organs, and such bio printed transplants will be completed in a human within a couple decades.
Imagine the possibility of this alone. You could set up a tissue bank that stores healthy tissue samples, and have them on standby in case you need them. This would be an insurance policy against future organ damage or catastrophic injury. If you know you are prone to alcohol abuse, you can store healthy liver samples in your 20s, and have it ready to replace your liver when it goes in your 40’s.
This tissue bank would be huge for the military. The military can store tissue samples for soldiers, and bio print new tissue as needed for wounded soldiers. This custom medicine would speed the soldiers recovery and reduce complications latter in the veterans life.
Bio Printed Nano Bots
Nano scale technology is also an intriguing medical frontier. Using something smaller than the cell, these futuristic bots hold the promise of attacking cancer without the miserable side effects of chemo therapy, or repairing damage to the body from the inside.
3D printing can possibly be used to 3D print nano scale bots for us. Instead of using chemical processes to try and mix the bots in the lab, future nano bots can me 3D printed by high resolution 3D bio printers.
3D DNA Nano particles
DNA can be thought of as a type of biological building brick. It can be cut to specific lengths, and the ends have a miter cut to join to other DNA segments at an angle. This means that DNA can be formed into unique nano particles.
Björn Högberg of the Swedish Karolinska Institute has designed a CAD program that can actually do this DNA modeling. This 3D modeling can produce DNA nano particles with complex geometry. From this CAD program, the lab produces a list of DNA segments to build with, much like a material list.
They then order commercially available DNA segments and mix them so they can self-assemble in the lab.
By using the DNA CAD program, doctors can design nano bots built from the patient’s own DNA. These nano bots can then be used in the patient to attack cancer, fight infections, or rebuild damaged tissues.
3D bio printing is the future of custom medicine. From tissues to nano bots, 3D printing technology will revolutionize medicine.