Friday, December 27, 2013

Print yourself a kidney

Just 3D print a new one.

Imagine this being the future response to failed organs or even broken bones. PBS has just named 3D printing in biotech as one of the biggest technological breakthroughs for the future.  As Gizmodo reports, new 3D printers are currently taking biological material, organic inks, and durable thermoplastics and assembling human body parts.  Here are few of the more interesting examples of "bioprinting:"

Skulls--a British medical firm is already producing a material that serves as a "skull patch."  There is in fact a man who has had over 75% of his own skull replaced with 3D printed material.

Skin--while it's relatively easy to print skin-like material, getting it to match your unique flesh tone is difficult.  There is, however, a database of captured skin tones in the works that may aid in the closer approximation of an individual's color.

Noses and ears--nice thing about these prosthetics is that should they wear out it is a simple matter to print out new ones.   Easy that is except for the matter of skin tone (see above).

Eyes--obviously one of the more complicated printing tasks.  These are expensive and can take months to produce.  The upside is that they are completely customizable for the consumer, giving them control over color, size, and everything.

Bones--actual replacement bones.  Sounds like it's still in the works, but there is currently printed biomaterial that can stimulate new bone growth.

Blood cells--this is likewise still in the works with biotech firms but it blows my mind just the same.  Printed organs will of course need functioning circulatory systems to go with them.  Still underway.

We've discussed a few of these things before, organ replacements and whatnot.  I can see a few downsides.

One that is inevitably brought up is that 3D printing such replacements could encourage irresponsible behavior.  Go ahead and drink all the booze you want or eat twice your body weight in sugar.  While print you a new liver or pancreas.  Hmmm.  Don't have much for you there.  I still don't see it as reason enough to impede technological progress or to not help the people who really do need it.

The transhumanist in me also wonders this: why print out a copy of what you have when you might be able to make an improvement?  Why go with plain old human bone when you could install something much more durable?  Why not be a total "cyberpunk?" I suppose it might provide an option for someone who needs a replacement but wants to remain meat.

I wonder...can you 3D print yourself a career?  I'd like that.

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