'Organ Printing' Could Drastically Change Medicine

"With the printers, we have the ability to tailor the material very well depending on how much crosslinker and so on," Boland said. "So we can actually match the properties of the heart cell [for example] with the properties of the tissue."

Rapid Prototyping

The concept behind organ printing is one that's been used in the manufacturing world for years, "rapid prototyping."

"Rapid prototyping is nothing more than layer-by-layer deposition of any materials," explained Mironov. "What is new is that instead of ceramic, instead of polymer, instead of some other nonorganic stuff, we use living tissue and living cells."

Rapid prototyping is the process of quickly turning product designs into actual samples. Using a computer and a rapid prototype machine, one can build almost any object -- limited only by size, complexity and material.

Guttenberg's Press

Though we may be half-a-century away from being able to print entire organs, scientists say we're likely much closer to applications that will affect everyone's life.

Boland is working with colleagues at the Medical University of South Carolina to build tissue to repair a heart that's been damaged.

"The problem with heart tissue is that you can't generate your own heart cells anymore," explained Boland. "You're born with a number of heart cells -- maybe a billion or so -- then, that's it."

Mironov said there were researchers working with two-dimensional bio-printed materials for work with drugs and toxicity.

Imagine living patches of skin that could be used to test medicines or even cosmetics.

Indeed as scientists and researchers work to make organ printing a reality, Mironov knows full well the potential implications for all of mankind.

"This could have the same impact as Guttenberg's press," he said.

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