This 3D printer was used to make N-95 masks. Eventually, printers like these should be able to create lives. (Francine Orr / Los Angeles Times)
Fairmont Preparatory Academy

Column: 3D printers should eventually be able to print lives

The idea of reanimating corpses and eternal life has intrigued a number of scientists, and thus has produced many Victor Frankensteins in real life for the past few centuries: which all failed badly.

However, in the 21st century, it seems like scientists have found a way to make this possible, a little unexpectedly, through 3D printers. 

Organ transplantation is a medical procedure in which one’s damaged organ is replaced with a healthy, functioning organ from another. The procedure can save patients with terminal organ failures which are otherwise incurable through surgical processes. 

However, recent research has revealed a significant flaw in such practice due to a great shortage of organ donors. According to research done by “The Gift of a Lifetime,” in the United States more than 84,000 men, women and children are waiting for organ transplants. More shockingly, 20 people die every day waiting for an organ transplant in the United States. Due to the shortage of these interchangeable organs, scientists have realized the necessity of “artificial organs” for transplantation. 

This is where the 3D printers come into play. Recently, many organizations have developed a way to print various organs, ranging from kidneys to heart, with 3D printers, according to Akshay Gurdita of All3DP organization.

Che Connon, a professor of tissue engineering at Newcastle University, said that he has developed a printable cornea that can be mass-produced by implementing bio-ink containing stem cells. He aims to make this inexpensive artificial cornea viable from 2020.

Moreover, according to Glasgow University and Jennifer Lewis, the bone-printing and kidney-printing technologies, respectively, have further broadened the scope of the 3D printing technology.

What’s more, according to Science Daily, a newly developed 3D printing technique called the SWIFT method, which involves a two-step process that forms stem-cell-derived aggregates into a dense, living matrix of organ building blocks, has dramatically refined upon the accuracy and efficiency of the printing process. 

Still, this burgeoning area of technology faces many downsides. Science Daily says that the most prominent of which is that the printed organs lack the cellular density and organ-level functions required for them to be used in organ repair and replacement.

In addition, 3D printing demands high energy consumption and emits volatile microscopic particles. Despite such shortcomings, however, the recent development of the 3D printing methods proves its potential utility in the medical field in the near future.

Before long, 3D printers won’t only be printing plastic toys but will start printing lives.