Our Bioprintable Future

A image of a hamburger inside a beaker

The notion of 3D printing has fired up our collective imagination worldwide. The ambitious folks over at MakerBot know this. That’s why they’re poised to enmesh 3D printing into the mainstream. MakerBot’s expansive offerings allow for dabblers to 3D print laser-scanned objects at home. Also, their extensive online libraries host an entire universe of downloadable, printable artifacts designed by a global network of enthusiasts.

Many sobersided applications of this technology are in production. For instance, the iLab // Haiti organization recently shipped 3D printers to Haiti. They instigated an instance of “hyper-local” manufacturing. Newly empowered Haitians are 3D printing umbilical cord clamps. Local hospitals and their patients benefit directly. The antiquated reliance on hauling medical devices across the planet is bypassed.

Meanwhile, the visionaries at Organovo see the 3D printer as mere prototype. They’re honing a new technological marvel from it, “bioprinting.” Organovo and their arsenal of 3D bioprinters have revolutionized the field of regenerative medicine. They’re growing functional human organs for study and transplant via tissue engineering. This emerging field of applied science is known as biofabrication.

Organovo’s co-founders launched a new venture in 2011, Modern Meadow. Besides lab-fabricated leathers (derived from animal cells via living host biopsy), their plan is to eliminate worldwide hunger. Wait. Fix hunger? Yes, from their viewpoint, food can be universally abundant and easily obtainable….

The forehead slapping moxie of this claim is amplified by the fact that it’s feasible. Modern Meadow’s strategy leverages biofabrication and the bioprinting of “cultured”, animal cell-centric meats for human consumption. They’re initially working to engineer specific foods. Burgers, sausages, and pâtés are projected as early possibilities.

Once fully realized, the 3D bioprinter’s potentials are lofty and limitless: synthetic organs, translucent leathers, the eradication of starvation, mitigation of our carbon footprint and the empowerment of deep space explorers – just to name a few. Powered by immense human reserves of scientific inventiveness and compassion, the 3D bioprinter is an incredibly exciting tool. Humankind must muster the courage to wield this profound instrument responsibly and forge a brand new fate.

 

Image courtesy of Mike Licht, used under CC license. Thanks Mike!

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