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3-D printing has come a long way. I first saw it in an IBM laboratory in the early 1990s. It was huge and costly. The cost has plummeted. Now I have one in my workshop. I print objects using filament made from Polylactic Acid (PLA). The PLA is 1.75mm in diameter. That is about seven one-hundredths of an inch. The filament comes in a spool and feeds into the printer, gets heated up, and is applied through a nozzle that acts like the moving print head of the old dot matrix printers. Instead of ink, the 3-D printer uses the PLA. We had some shelving end caps that were broken so I printed a dozen new ones. Jay Leno prints parts for his car collection. The most exciting opportunity for 3-D printing is in healthcare.

A team at the Wyss Institute for Biologically Inspired Engineering at Harvard University and the Harvard John A. Paulson School for Engineering and Applied Sciences (SEAS) has invented a method for 3D bioprinting thick vascularized tissue. Instead of PLA, the “ink” used is made from human stem cells. They also use an extracellular matrix, which is a collection of extracellular molecules secreted by cells that provides structural and biochemical support to surrounding cells. The printing process includes circulatory channels lined with endothelial blood vessel cells. The result is a printed network of human blood vessels. The breakthrough capability will make possible a new field of tissue engineering, which will lead to implanting new tissues where disease has taken a toll. It will eventually lead to printing of new organs to replace those which are worn out. I believe, at some point, organ transplants will be a thing of the past.

Read the entire article from Science Daily. Scaling up tissue engineering: Bioprinting technique creates thick 3-D tissues composed of human stem cells and embedded vasculature. Read more about 3-D printing for healthcare in Health Attitude.

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