Back in the day, the office joke was about those naughty coworkers who sat on the copy machine, sans clothing in some cases, to print – posterior art. Perhaps in the not too distant future those folks may be able to print actual posteriors. Although, it isn’t clear why anyone might need an extra set of those – except in the case of excessive laughing. Still, science fiction is fast becoming science fact in biotechnical labs. The most recent example of this being from the Organovo Company in San Diego which has engineered a printer for body parts. Yes, it is an odd thought.
In collaboration with Invetech, an Australian company that has delivered an array of medical devices for diagnostic purposes, Organovo developed the Novogen bioprinting technology that uses 3D bio-printers to print livers, bladders, arteries and the like. The process is somewhat similar to inkjet printers. The bio-printer has two heads, one for human cells and the other for a hydrogel that acts as a scaffold for holding the cells together. With each pass, the printer deposits droplets of the new material that eventually takes shape. It’s a complex process for the non-engineering crowd but let’s just say at the end of it, this is good news for organ failure patients.
Unlike other architecture, the human body is different and in the case of bio-printed organs function and form are unrelated. So the printed kidney might not actually be – kidney shaped. It could look like an inner tube or a ball or some other shape. All of which could lead to more artistic looking MRIs and X-rays. Beyond skin and blood, the technology won’t enter common usage for a few years, but it’s nice to know that we will eventually have the freedom to eat, drink and be merry without fear of organ failure.
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