Back when I was a wee lass and imagining what the future would be like, I think I didn’t think about it very hard. Flying cars, à la the Jetsons? Seemed a mite impractical. Food-in-a-pill? Not very appealing. And all those sleek and pointy fashions we were going to be wearing surely would get boring after awhile.
But I will tell you one thing: I never in a million years thought that we might be producing body parts via office equipment.
3D printing has got to be one of the most gobsmacking things to emerge in the last decade, just on sheer cool factor alone. Below you’ll find a video of folks printing out a wrench. A wrench! From a printer!
But wrenches, and toys, and various other useful items and gee-gaws absolutely pale in comparison to two things that floated across my eyeballs in the past couple of days:
- A 3D printed jaw.
- 3D printed human tissue.
The jaw was developed for an 83 year old woman by a research team from Belgium and Holland (suggesting that Rick Santorum might-maybe have been mistaken in his declaration that the Dutch like to off old people for being all old n’ stuff):
After an 83-year old woman was diagnosed with progressive osteomyelitis, an infection affecting almost her entire mandible, and doctors surmised that removal of the infected area was the only way forward. Removal would have left her with a non-functional jaw, which would require highly complex microsurgical reconstruction via transplantation of bone and soft tissues.
Due to the patient’s age, this wasn’t an ideal solution, so the team collaborated with Xilloc, a company specializing in tailor-made implants, and LayerWise, a metal additive manufacturer, to create a 3D printed prosthetic jaw. The team used traditional computer-aided design (CAD) software to model the implant, but when it came to constructing it, they needed to think outside the box.
Consumer-facing 3D printers commonly use materials such as plastic or resin to sculpt their creations, which would have been unsuitable for surgical application, so LayerWise used powdered titanium.
Powdered titanium! In your jaw!!1!
On the 3D tissue front, we probably shouldn’t really call it “human,” in the strictest sense, but it’s close enough that drugs can be tested on it, potentially saving pharmaceutical companies billions of dollars by detecting toxicity before the human testing stage.
But that’s not all.
A start-up called Organovo uses a 3D printer to build a variety of human tissue types, from cardiac muscle to blood vessels. The company hopes to eventually print entire organs for transplant from feedstock of a patient’s own cells, thereby reducing the likelihood of rejection.
I mean: Isn’t that totally cool?!
To read more about the titanium jaw, go to the original article on The Verge: Doctors use 3D printing to rebuild a woman’s jaw.
And to watch a really pretty nifty example of 3D printing, watch the following!
And if you need me, I’ll be on my fainting couch.