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Biotech Medicine Science Hardware

Printing Replacement Body Parts 101

Deep Penguin sends in a piece that appeared in The Economist a couple of weeks back about a developing technology to "print" body parts for transplant. "A US and an Australian company have developed the $200,000 machine, which works by depositing stem cells and a 'sugar-based hydrogel' scaffolding material. (The stem cells are harvested from a transplant patient's own fat and bone marrow, to avoid rejection down the line.) The companies are Organovo, from San Diego, specializing in regenerative medicine, and Invetech, an engineering and automation firm in Melbourne, Australia. The initial targets are skin, muscle, and 'short stretches of blood vessels,' which they hope to have available for human implantation within five years. Down the line, they expect the technology could even print directly into the body, bypassing the in-vitro portion of the current process."
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Printing Replacement Body Parts

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  • by feepness ( 543479 ) on Wednesday March 03, 2010 @04:54AM (#31342208) Homepage
    They took my gene stapler.
  • Count-down (Score:5, Funny)

    by derGoldstein ( 1494129 ) on Wednesday March 03, 2010 @05:00AM (#31342248) Homepage
    Printing penis jokes in 3, 2, 1...
    • by Stormwatch ( 703920 ) <<moc.liamtoh> <ta> <oarigogirdor>> on Wednesday March 03, 2010 @05:18AM (#31342376) Homepage
      How well does it do nerves? Print me a new foreskin, please!
    • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

      by mikael_j ( 106439 )

      As much as your comment may have been intended as a joke it is interesting to imagine a future in which you basically load up a large machine with the necessary basic materials, input a scan of yourself with whatever changes you want made and let the machine rebuild your body. And why stop at changing genitalia? or even general enhancement of your existing body, imagine what such technology could do for transsexuals, step into the machine a man and come out a woman. Hell, maybe you want to be a horse with a

      • I am more interested in what this type of thing will do for medicine. If a person has lung cancer can we make them a working set of lungs? Can we rebuild the nerves in a spinal column? If a persons bones become weak with ageing can we replace the bones?

        I a 44 now. I expect to lose the use of my body inside the next 40 years. It would be nice if there were alternatives I could go for.

        • Well, that would be the mountain top instead of the stars. If you can build someone an entirely new body that would obviously be a bigger achievement than "just" replacing specific organs, why bother replacing your lungs or your heart when you can just "reboot" yourself by getting a shiny new body while you're at it? I know that if the option existed I would gladly start my (still far off) retirement by changing back into a 18-20 year-old's body.

          Of course, you'd probably not be able to stay retired indefini

          • But what do you do with the brain? If you can't copy it you are going to be in trouble because the brain is as vulnerable as everything else.

            • Well, such tech would probably require a way to "refresh" the brain as well, that and the central nervous system is probably the biggest hurdle.

              But even without being able to "refresh" the brain to reduce the level of degradation technology that lets you fix the rest of the body could be very useful and convenient. Sort of like how even if you don't know anything about restoring car engines you can still take an antique car and fix the rest of it up and as long as the engine (brain) is in good condition to

          • At which point, prepare for this graph [] to become an understatement.
            • Yes there is that. I wouldn't mind continuing my life as software on a small spacecraft roaming the solar system, running slow with plenty of time to take advantage of a solar sail.

            • Don't worry.
              It'll only be a minority of rich people who can afford that stuff.
              99% of humanity will still die the same as ever.

              • by maxume ( 22995 )

                I think a lot of them would be even more bitter.

              • I'm not convinced that immortality is a desireable thing to begin with. Can you imagine an eternity of bitching about politics and the technological ignorance of others?

            • Doubtful. Who is going to pay for all of these replacement body parts? We can barely pay for the Viagra and Lipitor we get now.
        • From the bit above, it looks like the first uses for this are going to be skin and muscle, so for reconstructive surgery it'll be a boon.

          Then I reckon it'll do tendons, so maybe shoulders and knee repairs

      • Never mind transexual what about transpecies? I want a tail!

      • And why stop at changing genitalia?

        Because that would get rid of all the annoying Viagra spam and commercials, which is, essentially, the only thing standing between humanity and utopia.

  • "Surprise Her !!!, Print an enlarged Pen**, 80% off" must be blocked

  • Prior art (Score:5, Informative)

    by derGoldstein ( 1494129 ) on Wednesday March 03, 2010 @05:10AM (#31342324) Homepage
    This mouse [] called dibs 8 years ago.

    Seriously though, this certainly isn't the first time this has been done []. Previous methods also used similar 3D printing techniques, except that the printed organ was a "dud" that was impregnated (injected and suspended in fluids, as I remember) with cells, instead of the organ being printed in one pass.

    Not that this isn't very interesting, it's just not as new as they make it seem.
    • by xtracto ( 837672 )

      Yup, I will join the "old news" shouting wagon. I saw this on the Discovery Channel series 2057 [] (IIRC the Episode was "The Body").

      Nevertheless, it will be really news when the method gets approved by the FDA and starts being used in a common basis :)

    • This mouse [] called dibs 8 years ago.

      Actually, the mouse heard someone call dibs 8 years ago.

  • Doctor I don't know what hapenned, it was a complete accident but I've somehow jabbed a screwdriver through my penis!
    The trauma has caused some kind of cell shrinkage, I have no idea why it looks like it's only 3" but I can assure you it was 9" this morning.

    Fire up the printer baby!

  • by kamochan ( 883582 ) on Wednesday March 03, 2010 @05:18AM (#31342378)

    think 5th Element... now everyone can get their own Lee-Loo!

  •   How long before I can print my very own live copy of Milla Jovovich? Can't let Bruce Willis have all the fun.

  • by stonedcat ( 80201 ) <hikaricore [at]> on Wednesday March 03, 2010 @05:22AM (#31342432) Homepage

    PC LOAD LETTER? What the fuck does that mean?

  • by gbridge ( 746125 ) on Wednesday March 03, 2010 @05:25AM (#31342450)
    Being type 1 (insulin dependant) diabetic, the idea of having a new pancreas 'printed' is pretty appealing. I asked a doctor why they can't be transplanted like other organs and he said that it's because they're too fragile and would likely be damaged during the transplant process. It'd be great if printing a new one would work.

    One can dream...
    • If their most optimistic guesstimate is 5 years, then by the time that gets FDA (or equivalent) approval, that will be even further away.
      Looks like we are dealing with one of those 20-years-from-now technologies that stay 20 years away no matter what.
    • Yeah a woman I work with told me her 14 year old son has type 1 diabetes. Not nice in a kid so young, or anyone for that matter. But this seems to be more about rebuilding the physical structures while the pancreas is more of a biochemical converter which could have any shape. I suppose if you could build an insulin pump which can make insulin it could be implanted permanently.

      • As I understand it, the problem isn't the pump, it's the glucose sensor. If there was a reliable sensor, the technology has been around for decades to implant a mechanism, rechargeable with a a magnetic charger and programmer, and refillable with a syringe. But the reliable sensors all take chemicals, and all destroy blood to make their test.

      • Type I is normally diagnosed in children (it is seldom diagnosed after the age of 16 or so, though this does happen), and is the most severe type, characterized by the ceasation of insulin production by pancreas. This differs from Type II, in which, the pancreas may be fine, but the body has developed a resistance to use of the insulin, or in some cases, the pancreas may not be able to produce enough insulin to compensate for the body's size (a larger body has a larger quantity of blood, which in turn, requ

    • by Antique Geekmeister ( 740220 ) on Wednesday March 03, 2010 @06:17AM (#31342804)

      It wouldn't work. As near as I can tell from the literature pointed out by my Type 1 co-worker, the immune problemm that destroyed your insulin producing cells is probably still active, and would also destroy the self-grown transplant tissue. My co-worker also pointed out some fascinating immuno-suppressive therapies that seem to control this problem, and allow diabetic animals to regenerate their own insulin producing cells, which seems like having this printer without bothering to buy the printer.

      It's described at [], and it's quite fascinating work.

    • by plastbox ( 1577037 ) on Wednesday March 03, 2010 @08:38AM (#31343836) Homepage

      Greetings, fellow Type 1 diabetic!

      The reason pancreatic transplants aren't performed is that the chance of rejection is 100%. Your auto-immune system is already attacking anything that secretes insulin.. An insulin-producing organ from someone else would most assuredly not stand a snowballs chance in hell.

      There have been trials though. A few years back two diabetics here in Norway were "cured" by pancreatic transplants. They still had to live in virtual bubbles though because of the very strong immunosuppressive meds they were on. Despite the drugs, they only remained non-dependent on injections for about 12-18 months or so before the organ was put out of commission, so it's sadly not viable cure at all.

      Another procedure that could (in theory) work is to have your immune system and bone marrow destroyed chemically, then receive both a bone marrow and pancreas transplant from the same donor. The chances of finding both from a compatible donor aren't exactly convincing though, and there is of course the chance of the "new" immune system that follows your transplanted marrow will accept the pancreas but reject the rest of the body, promptly causing your death.

      There are some viable solutions though, like creating some sort of protein or something that to the immune system looks like insulin. Then administer huge amounts of this fake allergen to the patient to desensitize the immune system (similar to what is done with things like pollen allergies). The problem here is that no such substance exists as of yet, and you can't exactly give someone a superdose of insulin. Death isn't really the best solution, after all.. x)

      Another being looked into encapsulating cells (in this case, insulin producing beta-cells) in some sort of alginate made from seaweed. This allows insulin and nutrients to pass to and from the cell, while making it "invisible" to the immune system.

      Another seemingly promising solution is the theory that the immune system keeps attacking our beta-cells because of an on-going pain response triggered by the immune systems attack itself. Break the circle, and your body recovers most of it's insulin producing capability for at least a couple of years before something (like inflammation, etc.) causes you to need treatment again. I don't know how relevant this research is with regards to humans, but in animals injections of powerful anti-inflammatory drugs directly into the pancreas has reduced or abolished the animals insulin dependence for a year or two.

      Btw, I am as I said a Type 1 Diabetic. These days, I am playing around with a ketogenic diet, and I am currently taking 20 units of 12-hour insulin (Insulatard) each morning. That's it. Do the opposite of what the "FAT IS THE ENEMY"-evangelists have been preaching the past 40-50 years and all of a sudden every health marker is even better than before, and I need less medication than most Type 2 diabetics.

    • Being in the market (not literally) for a new one, I would be pleased to have a kidney printed.

      I asked a doctor why they can't be transplanted like other organs and he said that it's because they're too fragile and would likely be damaged during the transplant process.

      Where is this claim being made? They do do pancreas transplants right here at Massachusetts General Hospital []

  • by Hurricane78 ( 562437 ) <deleted.slashdot@org> on Wednesday March 03, 2010 @05:27AM (#31342462)

    Apart from it looking horrible, aliasing stairways are the antithesis to stability of an object. E.g. a bone with aliasing would be much less stable. And don’t even think about lying on it and not causing painful pressure points.

    No thanks. I like my body parts casted or grown.

    • So you're saying they need to implement an anti-aliasing algorithm?...
    • Yeah, but if the resolution is high enough, you'll never notice.
      By the way, what is this models resolution?

      One more small thing, I don't think this model does bones... but the marrow should be doable.
      • Actually, if the “voxels” flow into each other enough, aliasing will never occur. Which is why some low-resolution professional prints look better than high-resolution printer ones. Or why on a CRT pixels are less distinguishable then on a LCD. (Which is a good thing.)

    • Re: (Score:3, Funny)

      by Krneki ( 1192201 )

      Apart from it looking horrible, aliasing stairways are the antithesis to stability of an object. E.g. a bone with aliasing would be much less stable. And don’t even think about lying on it and not causing painful pressure points.

      No thanks. I like my body parts casted or grown.

      You are so 20th century.

      • I didn‘t say they would be casted or grown anywhere near a human body. ;)

        You are so 21st century with your computers.
        Biotech bodymods is all the craze in the 22nd century.

        You should come over and check it out!
        Oh, I forgot: You got no time machines. Booo-hooo... ;))

  • One Milla Jovovich please.
  • by DeanLearner ( 1639959 ) on Wednesday March 03, 2010 @06:00AM (#31342702)
    No doubt if the machine is $200,000 the print cartridges will be $600,000 and still only use three quarters of its ink!
    • And it will insist on printing a couple of full-color kidneys every time it is hard booted, just so you can waste more ink ^W^W^W align the heads again.

    • No doubt if the machine is $200,000 the print cartridges will be $600,000 and still only use three quarters of its ink!

      Except this thing uses stem cells rather than ink, so it'll be a lot cheaper per cartridge [].

  • by Anonymous Coward

    Anthony Atala presented this (and much more!) on TEDMED [] recently.


  • Hamburgers! (Score:5, Interesting)

    by Jahava ( 946858 ) on Wednesday March 03, 2010 @08:59AM (#31344048)
    What would, in my opinion, be truly interesting is if this printer device can be used with beef cells to produce artificial steaks (etc.). This could potentially remove the agricultural overhead of growing the meat, while reducing prices, increasing availability, dissolving concerns of inhumanity, and (possibly) skittering past some of the vegetarian reservations. Furthermore, there's no integration issues trying to put the product back into a live and functioning body!
    • by Svartalf ( 2997 )

      They're already culturing meat tissues in the lab, so why not? The only thing would be that you'd need a starter culture of cells to do that- where would THAT come from?

      • Now I want a bacon printer!

        It'll have to make two passes:
        1) Print
        2) Fry

        This would work great with eggs too.

        Mmmm..... Doughnut printer....
    • For the record, PETA has a $1M reward for exactly this [], for exactly the reasons you're suggesting. It's interesting because a lot of PETA members are really pissed about the idea since they want people to just stop eating meat, even if it's not actually from an animal.
    • Even better, you can make extremely high-quality meat (quality from the point-of-view of taste), which normally requires torturing the animal and killing it young. Veal, Kobi beef, etc. comes from animals that don't exactly have wonderful lives, being penned up in cages so their flesh stays supple. Being able to artificially manufacture such meat would eliminate these problems, plus also make meat cheaper. Instead of paying high prices for the best cuts of meat, or getting nasty "stew beef" if you can't

  • Ink (Score:1, Offtopic)

    by JohnHegarty ( 453016 )

    "which works by depositing stem cells and a 'sugar-based hydrogel' scaffolding material."

    I bet it's still cheaper to print with than HP No. 96 Black.

  • Land on a distant planets and start printing people, seeds, etc..

  • mention 5th element or printer cartridge costs yet?

    Just wondering.

  • And to think, I thought my printer's consumables were high!

  • I wrote a story once where this was done (here []. I kind of got tired of so many SF stories and movies solving traumatic injury with some sort of magical "healing tank" (maybe with effortless "nanobots") that I wondered to myself what sort of effort would really be needed to put someone together from just a bunch of pieces.

    The closest similar stories I found were the beginning of "Neon", by Harlan Ellison in 1973, and an early chapter of "Count Zero" by William Gibson.

  • Down the line, they expect the technology could even print directly into the body, bypassing the in-vitro portion of the current process.

    Ow! Paper jam!

  • After all the political posturing and debate over government funding for the use of embryonic stem cells for research, the private sector comes along and shows us where the action really is.

    Kinda makes you wonder if some academics deliberately pick areas of study with the longest term payoff possible in order to extend the length of their grant funding. After all, once the discovery is made, the researcher has to find a new area of study.
    • Isolating embryonic stem cells is relatively easy and people have been doing so for decades. Isolating adult stem cells is relatively hard and people are still figuring out how to do so.

      If we had just waited for adult stem cells to be available, we would have no idea how to do anything with those few types we now know how to produce.

      This is why research using embryonic stem cells was/is such a big deal. In the end game, we probably won't be using embryonic stem cells for human medicine, but we're

Who goeth a-borrowing goeth a-sorrowing. -- Thomas Tusser