Machine makes body parts 

Posted October 15, 2011; updated October 24, 2021.

This composite article captures the text of three different articles on the subject of making human body parts.  A special machine, 3D -bioprinter, is the new technology that is today already making many body parts. This webmaster encountered difficulty linking the articles to the original source web-sites.  As you can judge for yourself upon viewing the articles below, these three articles warrant sharing the future of medicine and making real human body parts. 

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 Making a bit of me : A machine that prints organs is coming to market   By The Economist

Illustration by David Simonds Economist: Making body parts

The great hope of transplant surgeons is that they will, one day, be able to order replacement body parts on demand. At the moment, a patient may wait months, sometimes years, for an organ from a suitable donor. During that time his condition may worsen. He may even die. The ability to make organs as they are needed would not only relieve suffering but also save lives. And that possibility may be closer with the arrival of the first commercial 3D bio-printer for manufacturing human tissue and organs.

The new machine, which costs around $200,000, has been developed by Organovo, a company in San Diego that specializes in regenerative medicine, and Invetech, an engineering and automation firm in Melbourne, Australia. One of Organovo’s founders, Gabor Forgacs of the University of Missouri, developed the prototype on which the new 3D bio-printer is based. The first production models will soon be delivered to research groups which, like Dr Forgacs’s, are studying ways to produce tissue and organs for repair and replacement. At present much of this work is done by hand or by adapting existing instruments and devices.

To start with, only simple tissues, such as skin, muscle and short stretches of blood vessels, will be made, says Keith Murphy, Organovo’s chief executive, and these will be for research purposes. Mr Murphy says, however, that the company expects that within five years, once clinical trials are complete, the printers will produce blood vessels for use as grafts in bypass surgery. With more research it should be possible to produce bigger, more complex body parts. Because the machines have the ability to make branched tubes, the technology could, for example, be used to create the networks of blood vessels needed to sustain larger printed organs, like kidneys, livers and hearts.

Printing history

Organovo’s 3D bio-printer works in a similar way to some rapid-prototyping machines used in industry to make parts and mechanically functioning models. These work like inkjet printers, but with a third dimension. Such printers deposit droplets of polymer which fuse together to form a structure. With each pass of the printing heads, the base on which the object is being made moves down a notch. In this way, little by little, the object takes shape. Voids in the structure and complex shapes are supported by printing a “scaffold” of water-soluble material. Once the object is complete, the scaffold is washed away.

Researchers have found that something similar can be done with biological materials. When small clusters of cells are placed next to each other they flow together, fuse and organise themselves. Various techniques are being explored to condition the cells to mature into functioning body parts—for example, “exercising” incipient muscles using small machines.

Though printing organs is new, growing them from scratch on scaffolds has already been done successfully. In 2006 Anthony Atala and his colleagues at the Wake Forest Institute for Regenerative Medicine in North Carolina made new bladders for seven patients. These are still working.

Dr Atala’s process starts by taking a tiny sample of tissue from the patient’s own bladder (so that the organ that is grown from it will not be rejected by his immune system). From this he extracts precursor cells that can go on to form the muscle on the outside of the bladder and the specialised cells within it. When more of these cells have been cultured in the laboratory, they are painted onto a biodegradable bladder-shaped scaffold which is warmed to body temperature. The cells then mature and multiply. Six to eight weeks later, the bladder is ready to be put into the patient.

The advantage of using a bioprinter is that it eliminates the need for a scaffold, so Dr Atala, too, is experimenting with inkjet technology. The Organovo machine uses stem cells extracted from adult bone marrow and fat as the precursors. These cells can be coaxed into differentiating into many other types of cells by the application of appropriate growth factors. The cells are formed into droplets 100-500 microns in diameter and containing 10,000-30,000 cells each. The droplets retain their shape well and pass easily through the inkjet printing process.

A second printing head is used to deposit scaffolding—a sugar-based hydrogel. This does not interfere with the cells or stick to them. Once the printing is complete, the structure is left for a day or two, to allow the droplets to fuse together. For tubular structures, such as blood vessels, the hydrogel is printed in the centre and around the outside of the ring of each cross-section before the cells are added. When the part has matured, the hydrogel is peeled away from the outside and pulled from the centre like a piece of string.

The bio-printers are also capable of using other types of cells and support materials. They could be employed, Mr Murphy suggests, to place liver cells on a pre-built, liver-shaped scaffold or to form layers of lining and connective tissue that would grow into a tooth. The printer fits inside a standard laboratory biosafety cabinet, for sterile operation. Invetech has developed a laser-based calibration system to ensure that both print heads deposit their materials accurately, and a computer-graphics system allows cross-sections of body parts to be designed.

Some researchers think machines like this may one day be capable of printing tissues and organs directly into the body. Indeed, Dr Atala is working on one that would scan the contours of the part of a body where a skin graft was needed and then print skin onto it. As for bigger body parts, Dr Forgacs thinks they may take many different forms, at least initially. A man-made biological substitute for a kidney, for instance, need not look like a real one or contain all its features in order to clean waste products from the bloodstream. Those waiting for transplants are unlikely to worry too much about what replacement body parts look like, so long as they work and make them better.   Economist: Making body parts     top arrowup

 3D Printing and The Replicator Economy  By John Rennie


“Tea. Earl Grey. Hot,” is the command synonymous for every fan of Star Trek: The Next Generation with one of that show’s most magical technologies: the replicator. Using 25th-century mastery over matter and energy, the Enterprise’s replicators can create virtually any desired object for which it’s programmed, from a replacement engine part to Captain Picard’s beverage of choice.

No need to wait centuries, however. The beginnings of that technology may be making its way into your home within the next five years and sparking an industrial revolution in the process.

New 3D printing and other so-called additive manufacturing technologies are based on methods that industries developed over the past quarter century to rapidly create prototypes of mechanical parts for testing. But as these methods become increasingly sophisticated, demand is rising to use them to manufacture finished products, not only in factories but also at a boutique, one-off level for individuals. Modeling software companies such as Autodesk, 3D-printer makers such as Stratasys and MakerBot Industries, and the enthusiastic make-it-yourselfers who congregate as sites such as Fab@Home have all jumped in to propel that movement. Already, 3D printing has been used to make tools and artworks, custom-fitted prosthetics for amputees, components for aviation and medical instruments, solid medical models of bones and organs based on MRI scans, paper-based photovoltaic cells, and the body panels for a lightweight hybrid automobile.

Much more is coming. The consulting firm Wohler Associates, which tracks additive manufacturing businesses, forecast in May that the industry should grow to $3.1 billion 2016 and $5.2 billion by 2020. Rich Karlgaard, the publisher of Forbes magazine, recently suggested 3D printing could be the “transformative technology of the 2015-2025 period.”

Today’s equivalents of Star Trek’s replicators go by many names: 3D printers, digital fabricators (or fabbers), RepRaps (for replicating rapid prototypers) and more. Working from computer models of a desired object’s design, they lay down patterns of plastic, metal powder or other fabrication materials to duplicate cross-sections through the object. Lasers or ultraviolet light may then help to set or solidify the material. The 3D printer systematically arranges these layers atop one another to create the complete object. The process is the opposite of sculpture: rather than carving away unwanted material with a mold or stencil, it adds material where there was none.

Additive manufacturing is appealing to factory operators they can modify a product’s design easily, without retooling, and small production runs need not be more costly. The manufacturing process also wastes less material. Since products can be made near where they will be used, 3D printing could help to eliminate some transportation costs for goods.

MakerBot's Thing-O-Matic retails for $2,500.

Prices for 3D printers are tumbling. Even simple systems often cost tens of thousands of dollars a decade ago. Now, 3D printers for hobbyists can be had for a fraction of that: MakerBot Industries offers a fully assembled Thing-O-Matic printer for just $2,500, and kits for building RepRap printers have sold for $500. The devices could be on track for mass-production as home appliances within just a few years.

So, will we all soon be living like Arabian Nights sultans with a 3D printing genie ready to grant our every wish? Could economies as we know them even survive in such a world, where the theoretically infinite supply of any good should drive its value toward zero?

The precise limitations of replicator technology will determine where scarcity and foundations for value will remain. 3D printers need processed materials as inputs. Those materials and all the labor required to mine, grow, synthesize or process them into existence will still be needed, along with the transportation costs to bring them to the printers. The energy to run a replicator might be another limiting factor, as would be time (would you spend three days replicating a toaster if you could have one delivered to your home in an hour)? Replicators will also need inputs to tell them how to make specific objects, so the programming and design efforts will still have value.

“I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again: most households will not purchase and run a 3D printer to produce their own products,” Terry Wohlers, the president of Wohler Associates, recently wrote. Average consumers might have small inexpensive printers for making children’s toys, but he thinks most people will lack the skills, interest or financial commitment needed to routinely make their own products. For them, contracting occasionally with a fabrication service to make things for them may make much more sense.

Perhaps the most important limitation on the replicator economy may competition from good old mass production. Custom-tailored suits may be objectively better than off-the-rack outfits, but people find that the latter are usually the more sensible, affordable purchase. Mass production—especially by factories adopting nimble 3D-printing technologies—can still provide marvelous economies of scale. So even when it is theoretically possible for anyone to fabricate anything, people might still choose to restrict their replicating to certain goods—and to continue making their tea with a store-bought teabag.   Article by Rennie: 3D printing body parts is no longer active.    top arrowup

 3D printing in medicine: What is happening right now in patients  By Joris Peels

I applaud all the attention that 3D printing has been getting in the media lately. But, I’ve also noticed that many people are now thinking that 3D printing is something that was invented last week and will be relevant in five years. I’ve asked the two biggest experts on the 3D printing industry Terry Wohlers and Referral to Phil Reeves is no longer active to provide us with some information to redress the balance.

Did you know for example that the 3D printing industry, according to Wohlers report 2010, had revenues of $1.068 billion in 2009? Terry Wohlers told me that just the medical and dental part of the industry was doing $157,000,000 in 2009. We’ll skip all the news from the laboratory and concentrate on what’s been happening right now in patients with 3D printing medicine.

3D printed Hearing Aids

How many 3D printed hearing aids do you think there are? According to Phil Reeves best conservative estimate, there are “10,000,000 3D printed hearing aids in circulation worldwide.” 3D printing dominates the market for In-The-Ear hearing aids (also called ITE). So if you are wearing an In-The-Ear hearing aid right now, then it is very likely that the outer shell of this hearing aid is 3D printed. So how come you don’t know about this? Because the hearing aid manufacturers didn’t sell the technology but rather told patients about the increased comfort. 3D printing makes hearing aids more comfortable and this is why over the years the 3D printed variants have replaced non 3D printed hearing aids. That simply put is what is going to happen in many industries.

hearingShellsAn individualized 3D printed product offers better comfort (or value) to the customer and will sweep away established mass produced variants. But, what I want to make clear is that this is not some future scenario that might happen in ten years. The hearing aid industry has already been transformed by 3D printing. Market share has shifted, manufacturers have been displaced and the industry has been turned on its head. If you are in any kind of manufacturing business then its nice that 3D printing is now being discussed round the water cooler but you really should be talking about it in the board room. At the very least this technology will accelerate your product development. But, depending on your business you may be Motorola cheerfully pressing ahead with analog while everyone else goes digital.

Right side is an image of a build tray of an EnvisionTEC Perfactory DSP (Digital Shell Printer) one of a number of 3D printers made specifically for the hearing aid industry. The image on the right shows you how the hearing aid industry gets from a mold to a unique 3D printed hearing aid. The machine makes 30 unique hearing aid shells in an hour and a half. The billion dollar question is what other things could you substitute for hearing aids in the chart above?

3D printed Orthopedic implants

“Everyone is unique” is not just some idea your third grade teacher tries to drill into you. In many medical applications patient specific treatments, implants & devices give people better results. Patient specific healthcare will grow very quickly because of this. Its only been a few years since the first titanium 3D printing facilities and processes have been certified for implantology. Phil Reeves estimates that there are below 30,000 patients walking around with 3D printed orthopedic implants. Not a large number by any means but its more than you thought there were.

3D printed Dental implants

dentalplatform There is a much bigger chance that you have a dental implant that is 3D printed. Phil Reeves rough estimates that there have been anywhere from 500,000 to 750,000 3D printed dental implants in patients worldwide. Crowns, bridges & caps are 3D printed with several methods. On the right is a build platform of a Concept Laser 3D printer whose contents are destined for people’s mouths.

3D printed visual models


According to Terry Ohlers, “One of the largest and most established medical applications is the production of models to help teams of surgeons plan and conduct complex surgeries.” CT or MRI scans are turned into 3D files. The resulting files are 3D printed and the surgeons can discuss the conjoined twins or the cranio-maxillofacial reconstructive surgery while holding the 3D prints in their hands. At the same time the tools that make this possible such as Materialise’s SurgiCase can let surgeons virtually plan surgeries. Above left is a 3D printed Zcorp multicolor visual model made by us. Note the helpful “this is not an implant” text.

3D printed Surgical Guides

Another fast growing business in 3D printed medicine is surgical guides. With these a scan is taken and transformed into a 3D model. This is then used to virtually plan the surgery. A 3D print is then made of a guide telling the surgeon where and how deep to cut. The surgeon can then use the 3D print to guide the procedure. Because we are heavily involved in this in both surgical guides for Orthopedic and Dental surgeons I’ll go deeper into this subject in another post.

I hope that by telling you that there are approximately 10,530,000 people walking about wearing 3D printed hearing aids & implants you’ve gotten a little bit of a better feeling for just how large and widespread the 3D printing industry is in the medical field. I’ll make a number of other medical 3D printing posts over the coming weeks to give you more of an idea of what has been going on. Yes, the major growth is ahead of us and exciting things are being invented all the time. But, to me by far the most exciting aspect of 3D printing is how it is changing manufacturing and adding value to people’s lives right now.  Peels: 3D printing in medicine


"Making a bit of me: A machine that prints organs is coming to market," The Economist, February 18 2010.   Economist: Making body parts

Peels Joris, "3D printing in medicine: What is happening right now in patients, Materialise, February 25, 2011.   Peels: 3D printing in medicine

Rennie John, "3D Printing and The Replicator Economy," Txchnologist, July 29th, 2011. Article by Rennie: 3D printing body parts is no longer active.

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