Med Minute: How your everyday printer can print an organ

Posted by: in Social Media Insights & Trends on March 7, 2011

Med Minute is your (how ever often I have time to post) snippet on all things geeky, medical or healthcare related.  It’s for the inner nerd in all of us.

Warning!  If you shy away from gross imagery and are faint of heart, I would stop reading about here.

No, seriously, I am warning you.

Okay, if you’re still with me, what I am about to share with you may blow your mind – kind of like fax machines did in the 80s.  This story certainly blew me away when I heard it on my way to work this morning.  Scientists at Wake Forest University have found a way to print new skin (primarily for burn victims) via something very akin to your personal printing machine.  They even use empty ink cartridges – “They (the scientists) use all the ink, clean it out, sterilize it, then load it up with cells and gel and prints skin on people.”

YUCK!!! Right!

“The goal,” says Dr. Anthony Atala, who is leading the research, “and he thinks it’s a realistic one, is to print entire organs this way. So if you need a kidney, you won’t need to hunt all over the world for a perfect donor.”

The science is based on an existing invention (since 2003, really) called 3D printing.  Right now, 3D printing machines are available, but are very expensive and mostly used by engineers to create plastic models/replicas.  The way 3D printing works is through print and successive layering.  Molecular biologists have been researching ways to adapt 3D printing to organ replication, and have now figured out how to do it.

Comedian Paul F. Tompkins, who chimed in on the radio piece this morning, had this reaction to the news, “It’s just gross.  It’s something you just shouldn’t see like making laws or sausage.”

I have to agree.  Just thinking about how organs would come off a printer does make my head crinkle.  But, there is no denying how fascinating and world changing this type of invention could be for many people in need of organs.

Sometimes the tools for invention are right under our noses – which I am now imagining they could print out as well.

By: Katie Macdonald

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