Right from an actual firing gun to a camera lens, funky phone holders to even a musical flute, 3D printing has expanded our horizons of what can be made by with the help of a computer. But can we trust this technology to go beyond these everyday things and make something that can be truly life saving?
Well, there have been reports where 3D printing has helped doctors create a replica model of a faulty heart before attempting surgery on a two year old or even help trauma patients rebuild their faces with 3D printed parts, but we would like to push these frontiers even further and get these printers to print something more amazing, more like a liver we could transplant or a heart that could pump blood for real.
While this might sound like a technology stolen from the future, the fact is that there are companies working today towards making this possible and have even got as far as printing a particular tissue on demand. Organovo, a San Diego, California based company, actually takes orders for printing liver tissue so that drug companies can test their new drugs on them, before taking them for clinical trials.
Usually, drug trials are carried out on cultured cells in the lab, before a clinical trial is attempted. However, sometimes the results of lab trials and clinical trials do not match and the reason for such a mismatch is the difference between the real and lab worlds.
In the lab, cells are grown in a culture flask where they grow next to each other on a flat or 2D surface. However, in the real world, cells of a tissue or organ grow next to each other and even on top of each other, something we would call a 3D structure and here the dynamics of taking up a drug and processing it might change.
Organovo's innovation is this regard is their ability to print tissues in 3D and then use for testing purposes. Here is a video explaining how the printing process works and how drugs can be tested.
So far, the company has been able to make available its 3D printed liver tissue for trial purposes but is also working with others to create disease tissue for rare disorders so that potential drug targets can be tested with much greater accuracy.
With the progress report so far, printing organs for ourselves which can specifically match our requirements does seem to be an achievable feat in the near future, doesn't it?
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