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Image of a quadrifolium in 3D print

Photo Credit: Quadrifolium 3D Print by fdecomite licensed under CC by 2.0

 

Okay, maybe it’s not that simple to get a real nipple, but let’s just say that a 3D printer could have saved Dr. Curt Connors from his reptilian fate. By now, I’m sure you’ve heard of 3D-printed guns that actually work and livable houses manufactured by 3D printers, but have you heard of 3D bioprinting? Did you know that it is possible to print functional cells and create human tissue?

That just blows my mind.

One company in particular, TeVido BioDevices, is focusing on using 3D printing to create tissue for breast reconstruction. It is currently working on reconstructing the nipple using a woman’s own cells, but in the future it plans on also using this technology to fill voids left by lumpectomies.

How does it work? TeVido modified an ordinary HP printer to use a cartridge that dispenses layers of cells instead of ink onto a biocompatible material. Watch this video to see it in action:

 

 

Now, for those of you whose mind is perpetually in the gutter (I know mine is), let’s get this out of the way now. Yes, it is also possible to print a vagina, although it will have to be plastic for now. You can look into that later. In the meantime, let’s focus on the potential of this technology to help people. Not only could this be a significant improvement over current breast reconstruction methods, but it could help burn victims, people who suffer from chronic skin lesions, and cancer patients who have lost other body parts due to tumor growth. Cornell bioengineers have already printed an artificial ear that could be used for children born with an ear deformity called microtia. This is where the outer ear is underdeveloped, causing hearing loss. The 3D-printed ears not only look natural but could outperform current solutions for restoring hearing loss.

I realize this type of technology is controversial. We start with tissues, but the next step will likely be to bioprint organs. I don’t know whether that’s right or wrong. What I do know is that human creativity is amazing, and ultimately, it’s hard to abnegate something that could help people live better lives.

What are your thoughts on bioprinting?

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