The Future of 3D Printing and the Bionic Body
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One of the biggest technological advancements of our time is 3D printing, and it’s set to radically change the world. There are already claims that the use of 3D printers could help to tackle global issues such as poverty and problems of plastic waste. From building homes for the poor and feeding the mouths of the hungry to saving lives with new machinery in hospitals, the possibilities of 3D printing are limitless.
In the medical industries in particular, 3D printing will revolutionise the way that disease is managed. More specifically, 3D printing could solve the organ transplant shortage and eradicate the need for long transplant waiting lists.
The Bionic Body of the Future
The promise of printing human organs was first discussed in 1983, when stereolithography was invented by the famous Charles Hull. By the year 2003, printing cellular constructs was introduced by Thoman Boland of Clemson University. The technique for printing organs was later coined as ‘bioprinting’, and whilst we’re still a few years off perfecting this technology, we have already seen some recent uses of 3D printers in the medical world today.
A recent example is the use of 3D printing capabilities to map the first ever adult to toddler kidney transplant. 3 year old Lucy Boucher from Northern Ireland is the first child to survive an adult kidney transplant, after an organ donation from her father, and this was thanks to 3D printing. This incredible success highlights just how beneficial bioprinting could be in the future.
So what exactly is in store for the next few decades when it comes to the human body and transplants? From From i-limbs to artificial organs, there are a lot of advancements that could minimise disease and extend life for patients.
Moral and Ethical Implications
Whilst scientists race to make 3D printing for organs, limbs and and arteries a reality, there are concerns for the moral and ethical issues which may arise with such technology. Although having 3D printers in hospitals across the world would save lives and improve public health, the topic has long been stirring up ethics debates amongst doctors, scientists and politicians.
What is the moral impact of it all, and is there really a darker side to 3D printing in healthcare? The first concern is the issue of cost, something that will be more apparent in the early days of bioprinting. This type of medical science may be something that is only afforded by the rich, creating a bigger equality gap across the world.
Additionally, there are some religious groups who believe that organ printing is ‘playing God’. Other problems could be justice and access, the safety of this method as an unknown territory, and the moral dilemmas of human enhancement. To find out more, see this article from ABC Science.