Suppose you are bedridden due to a painful chronic disease and waiting in a long line for organ donation and you are informed of an available artificially generated organ that could end your pain and save your life? Well, that represents an increasingly foreseeable future where human organs will be produced using three-dimensional (3D) Bio-printing technologies which are already being used to manufacture live liver tissue as reported by O’Toole (2014). Essentially, 3D Bio-printing entails the direct digital manufacture (DDM) of live tissue and possibly organs by outputting layer-upon-layer of living cells using bio-printers in a more intricate process than the usual printing. The manufacture of live tissue through bio-printing will continue to enhance the lives of many people who face life-threatening medical conditions that can be managed or reversed using new technologies like bio-printers.
3D Bio-printing Technologies and Society
The impact of 3D bio-printing technologies on society is part of other positive outcomes experienced through the use of varied medical technologies that have aided in treating and managing disease conditions and generally saving many peoples’ lives. Additionally, O’Toole (2014) reports that efforts in bio-printing, which are currently being engaged in at full force by the California-based biotech firm, Organovo, will also lead to more medical research as well as how it is done. Murphy & Atala (2014) indicate that ‘3D bio-printing is being applied to regenerative medicine to address the need for tissues and organs suitable for transplantation’ including ‘multilayered skin, bone, vascular grafts, tracheal splints, heart tissue and cartilaginous structures’.
Further, the associated processes are highlighted as being more complex compared with non-biological printing, due to materials required. These include ‘cell types, growth and differentiation factors, and technical challenges related to the sensitivities of living cells and the construction of tissues’ (Murphy & Atala, 2014). As such, the authors also assert that the processes necessitate integration of various technologies from diverse fields including cell biology, biomaterials science, medicine, engineering and physics. The importance of this integration can be inferred from Professor Choong’s (of St Vincent’s Hospital in Melbourne) statement, as reported by Buzacott-Speer (2014), about how medical procedures using the technology could be extremely patient-specific’. The fear is that the products of these technologies could cause infections through transmission of disease from the products or other adverse reactions.
Nonetheless, Buzacott-Speer (2014) report indicates another of the technology’s impact on society involving provision of relevant education on the topic to support its anticipated application in the medical field. Specifically, relevant knowledge will be spread by establishing an international Masters Degree program in 3D bio-printing through a partnership between higher education institutions in Australia, Netherlands and Germany. More enthusiasm is directed towards the technology’s future application and its impact on individuals and society in general through the provision of whole implantable organs that could save and drastically extend people’s lives. Murphy & Atala (2014) acknowledge that other uses include ‘developing high-throughput 3D-bioprinted tissue models for research, drug discovery and toxicology’, while 3D printing applications are projected to significantly impact and transform science and education.
Nothing is less welcome than pain, suffering and potential death compared to pleasure or betterment, which explains the ever-increasing efforts in the production and utilization of technology in solving and fulfilling societal problems and needs, respectively. As such, it is evident that 3D bio-printing technologies are already aiding in treating medical conditions through production of vital tissues while their future application is projected to further these positive impact by manufacturing whole organs. In summary, like every other form of technology, the use of 3D bio-printing technologies and their products and application should be approached with caution so as to ensure that they do not affect people negatively.
- Buzacott-Speer, E. (Oct. 31, 2014). 3D printed organs another step closer as biofabrication enters university mainstream. ABC News. Retrieved from http://www.abc.net.au/news/2014-10-31/preparations-continue-for-pioneering-medical-3d-printing-degree/5857376
- Murphy, S.V. & Atala, A. (2014). 3D bio-printing of tissues and organs. Nature Biotechnology, 32: 773–785 (2014)
- O’Toole, J. (November 4, 2014). 3-D-printed organs are on the way: Innovation Nation. CNN Money. Retrieved from http://money.cnn.com/2014/11/04/technology/innovationnation/3d-printed-organs/