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The future of 3D body part printing: Is this the end of human donors?

10 February 2016


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Making injuries vanish, and replacing body parts at the click of a button may seem like a scene in a movie… but in reality it isn’t that far off.

Even the makers of ‘The Avengers’ got to have a sneak peek into the Wake Forest Institute for Regenerative Medicine’s lab, according to its director Dr. Anthony Atala, explaining the mysteries of 3D body part printing at the 2016 World Government Summit.

“The technology gives us precision on where to exactly place the genes,” he said. “We have a clinical on-site scanner and bio-printer, which can be brought right to the patient’s bedside. So first the scanner scans the wound, then the printer goes back and prints right where you need it.”

3D organ printing technology began 11 years ago, with what looked like a normal printer.

“We wanted to see how we could automate organ production in large quantities. We drop the cells – just like ink – in a printer cartridge, and you can print a heart.”

However, cells need to cultivate in order to produce functioning organs, so printers have evolved that they are already able to engineer skin and blood vessel implants.

But some body parts are works in the making. For now, at least.

“Heart valves are still experimental,” said Atala. “We also have printable miniature kidneys and are currently working on how to get full sized ones.

“The technology is still expensive; however, once manufacturing is scaled up, a new kidney could cost $100,000 versus having to provide dialysis at a cost of $250,000 a year,” he added.