3D printing is one of the few areas in life where cat statues, pizza, and guns intersect. Frankly, 3D printing is just plain exciting. At Mixer Direct we are more than pleased to have our fair share of 3D printing companies as customers. Some say that this industry is overhyped and others are crowning it the king of the future. Great scott! What does this all mean? Have no fear. We are here to drop some truth on you.
What is 3D printing and what does 3d printing have to do with the medical field??
3D printing is the creation of a three dimensional object by successively constructing it layer by layer to the point of completion. There are also several types of materials you can print with, such as: plastics, metals, and nearly one hundred other materials. You can literally print anything from a stormtrooper action figure, to guns, aero engine parts, and electric guitars. Oh and did we mention human organs? By using a person’s own cells, bio-materials, and a few other things, printing a 3d organ is a reality. It almost sounds like a sci-fi movie that your wife will refuse to watch with you.
Can 3d printing solve a major problem in the medical field?
Here is what we would refer to as the good news: we are living longer. The bad news is that organ failure is becoming a more prevalent problem. We are living longer, but transplants have stayed just about the same. If you guessed that this is the part where 3D printing comes into play, you would be correct. This solution is actually already carrying a name in the medical field, "Regenerative Medicine". Shockingly enough, this field is not new. Enter stage left, Charles Lindbergh. Yes, that Charles Lindbergh and a man named Alex Carrel. Carrel a French surgeon, biologist, and Nobel Prize winner and Lindbergh (click on the link, there are a plethora of books written just to describe all of his roles and accomplishments in his life). The two men crossed paths when Carrel was seeking to figure out how to keep organs alive outside the body. Lindbergh came onto the scene to develop a device that could pump the necessary substances through the organ's tissues. Ironically, Lindbergh ultimately ended up inventing the artificial heart. These two men spent a larger part of their lives at the Rockefeller Institute in New York studying the culture of organs and laying the very ground work for Regenerative Medicine dating back to 1938.
What Is The Hold Up?
Fast forward to 2011 where we meet practicing Surgeon and Regenerative Medicine Researcher at Wake Forest, Dr. Anthony Atala. In the spring of 2011, Atala gave a popular TED Talk. In this talk, Atala brought a few problems to the surface that those in the regenerative medical field have been trying to resolve for the last 2 decades. The first question was, would the design of the 3d printed organ stand the test of time inside a persons body? Next, could the required amount of organ cells actually be grown considering that some still cant even be grown in 2014 (pancreatic and liver cells. And the third obstacle to overcome was, could the blood being supplied actually allow the organs to be sustained once created. So should we all just lose hope? Not in the least. Atala elaborates on Wake Forest's School of Medicine website,"We have many challenges to meet, but are optimistic about the ability of the field to have a significant impact on human health. We believe regenerative medicine promises to be one of the most pervasive influences on public health in the modern era." - Anthony Atala, MD, Director
What Is Possible Now?
On the bright side, Atala and scientists at Wake Forest were the first in the world to engineer successfully lab-grown organs that were implanted into humans. His team is on the case to this day striving to develop a variety of tissues, organs, and healing cells. They are specifically focused on finding actual cures rather than just trying to treat diseases. As you will be able to see in the video below, Atala demonstrates very clearly the evidence of what 3d generated transplants can accomplish. In the video, a young student at the University of Connecticut received a bladder in 2001 that is still fully functional 13 years later. Doctors and patients alike anxiously await a day in which regenerative medicine and 3d printed organs will become a functional part of medicine for the majority of organ failure issues. One thing is for sure, don't blink, you might miss out on what biotechnology, regenerative medicine, and 3d printing industries are doing. The three industries are intimately linked and are working hard to produce solutions, which is why we are glad to have a hand in the industry.
Dr. Atala's TED Talk