It has been quite a while since we've had a story to cover in the world of additive manufacturing, or "3d printing," but this one, while not making banner headlines and dropping right off the radar, is one of those milestones that raises all sorts of questions. The story was spotted and passed along by V.T., to whom a big thank you for spotting it, otherwise, this important development might have gone unnoticed. It's the sort of thing one would expect the lamestream corporate media would at least mention, but no.
Indeed, the last time we spent some time in a blog on additive manufacturing, we noted the process was being used to print "meat", giving a whole new meaning to that phrase "mystery meat" we used to all use in our school cafeterias on the days we have "chicken fried steak", which little resembles chicken, or steak, or anything else recognizable. With three-d printing, the phrase has taken on a whole new meaning.
But now, researchers in Israel have managed to 3d print a human heart, a more or less functioning one:
One of the more recent and astonishing medical discoveries is an engineered heart that completely matches the immunological, cellular, biochemical and anatomical properties of a patient. This is a major medical breakthrough, and it comes from researchers at Tel Aviv University.
They were able to “print” the world’s first 3D vascularized engineered heart using the patients own cells and biological materials. Their findings were published a couple of weeks ago in Advanced Science.
Never before has a full organ been printed with complete success and been able to be put to use. In regenerative medicine, scientists have only been successful in printing simple tissues without blood vessels.
“This is the first time anyone anywhere has successfully engineered and printed an entire heart replete with cells, blood vessels, ventricles and chambers,” says Prof. Tal Dvir of TAU’s School of Molecular Cell Biology and Biotechnology, Department of Materials Science and Engineering, Center for Nanoscience and Nanotechnology and Sagol Center for Regenerative Biotechnology, who led the research for the study. (source)
This has tremendous potential, and just imagine if this type of technology was made available to everybody with heart disease! It’s the leading cause of death among both men and women in the United States, and heart transplantation is one of the only solutions available. This type of technology could literally provide a new heart without the risks and difficulties associated with a full heart transplant.
I have to confess that this development does give me some joy, and for several reasons, not the least of which are mentioned in the citation above, for the development has the promise of revolutionizing the procedures of medical transplants, for no longer would one run the risks of organ rejection that occur in current practice. And, I have to confess, the other part of my happiness is the contemplation of the happy thought that this might end the barbaric practice of organ harvesting and trafficking.
But there my happiness ends and the discomforting questions begin. One obvious implication of these developments is that almost any organ - liver, spleen, pancreas and so on - might eventually be "printable", raising the prospect that as one organ wears out, another could be printed to replace it. Inevitably, this raises the prospect of a kind of longevity the likes of which humanity has not experienced nor seen since the days of ancient texts with their incredibly long life-spans. Such techniques, if developed, would remake most of our cultural institutions in ways we can scarcely imagine. These techniques might lead to contributions to cloning and other Frankensteinian possibilities.
One of those possibilities in particular gives me great pause, for if it eventually becomes possible to "3d print" organs, as this article suggests, then what about the brain? Might such a technology actually and eventually be used to reveal aspects about the structure of the human brain, aspects which perhaps could unravel secrets about computing, even of quantum computing? Or worse, might such a technology be used to envision the ultimate "organ transplant"? If so, what effects might it have on behavior and personality? Couple this to nano technologies and genetic engineering and...
... well, you get the idea...
...and "the idea" may not be as bright and shiny as it's being made out to be.
See you on the flip side...