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Advances in 3-D Printing: Human Organs!

Makerbot image by Bre Pettis [CC BY 2.0], via Wikimedia Commons
Almost exactly a year ago I wrote a post on how 3-D printing is revolutionizing medicine. At the time there was a big surge in using 3-D printers to build affordable prostheses. Exciting new research has been published that will most likely broaden the abilities of 3-D printing in the medical field- printing soft organs.

Yes, that's right, if researchers can master this process, then we could build organs rather than wait for organ donors to match up with those people in need. The biggest challenge in 3-D printing for soft parts is that the 3-D building process is additive, layer being built on layer. When you are adding layers of soft material like gels on one another they begin to collapse under their own weight. It is easy to print something out of rigid material, like plastic, but not as easy to print cells. 

Researchers at Carnegie Mellon University published their new technique in Science Advances on October 23rd. In order to provide support for the squishy materials needed to "print" an organ, scientists found they could create a bath of semisolid collagen gel that would hold the printed material together until it was fully printed and solidified. This process has allowed them to build soft tissues like heart parts and even a miniature brain!

Pretty amazing stuff! 3-D printing is allowing anyone with access to a makerspace or a 3-D printing lab to experiment, engineer and innovate. Do you have a makerspace in your school or community? Access to materials to tinker with and the advances in technology like 3-D printers has created opportunities for research outside of settings like universities where it traditionally happens.

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