3D printing is changing the world by providing new ways to make anything from cars to houses to rocket turbines. But what if you could use living cells as the ink? Could you print an organ? Could you print the human body?
Day to day, I work in a small research lab in St Vincent’s Hospital, Melbourne. At the moment we’re up on the 5th floor of the old Daly wing--tucked away in rooms which served as psychiatric wards in the 60s and 70s—yet, still (I believe) we are working at the forefront of medical science. We run the hospital’s biofabrication suite.
Here, I’m part of a team figuring out ways of creating artificial replicas of human body parts.
Once implanted, these spare parts are designed to stimulate the body to regenerate itself, then to degrade naturally, dissolving in the bloodstream and eventually excreted.
Central to our research is 3D printing technology—a tool which is revolutionizing research across many disciplines. In medicine, it’s already been used to fabricate custom prosthetics, cranial implants, and hips that perfectly reproduce the patient’s unique anatomy.
These amazing advances have been achieved using highly engineered synthetic materials--biocompatible plastics and metals, like titanium. But we want to go one further.
We’re printing with cells.
This new technology of "bioprinting" has the potential to revolutionise medicine-- one day, we want to use them to print organs and tissues for transplanation, using the patient's own cells. Though printed, functioning organs are probably many years away, other groundbreaking applications using bioprinting may be just around the corner.