3D printing has been getting a fair amount of mainstream media attention lately. While not all of that attention has been positive, it’s still good to see the info get out there. One problem with most media coverage is that of depth. You get a blurb here or a three-minute discussion there, but not really enough to get a full picture of the technology.
Receiving, as it does, most of its budget from government grants or membership drives, National Public Radio (NPR) can, literally, afford to spend more time on specific subjects than other news organizations. People that listen to NPR are probably more likely to stick with a story that interests them for the duration as well, as opposed to TV media where commercial breaks can give folks an easy opportunity to walk away or turn the channel.
For many years people expected the future of medical technology would probably have something to do with cloning. Growing new organs from cells harvested from the patient would make rejection unlikely, and whole stockpiles of human parts could be created to save lives. Now it seems more likely that AM will provide the organs that social mores and certain types of paranoia combined to keep cloning on the sidelines.
A number of institutes around the world are experimenting with bioprinting. The process uses inkjet based 3D printers and an “ink” made of human cells (as with cloning, using the patient’s own cells are the best bet) mixed with a dissolvable gel, often cellulose. From there, the process is similar to other AM techniques. The printer puts down a layer, which is then cured with heat, chemicals or UV light, before moving on to the next layer. Finally, the printed part is placed in a bioreactor, where it is subjected to the processes it is meant to facilitate (blood is pumped through heart valves, liquid through a liver, etc.).