Picture a world where machines can produce organs on demand, saving the lives of countless people who would otherwise sit on waiting lists for years. Imagine a world where people have normal, functional organs removed, and replaced with custom-made, genetically enhanced ones that will last longer, deal with more abuse, and perform better than what they were born with.
According to this source it might be the world we live in come the year 2016 or so.
What is bioprinting?
Bioprinting is the use of 3D printing technology to create functional, living tissues that can then be implanted into patients. This is a practice that exists today, as evidenced by a young girl who in 2013 received a windpipe made from her own stem cells.
3D printing has been used in the medical field for years. Dr. Maki Sugimoto, a surgeon and professor at the Kobe University School of Medicine, has been using 3D printing since 2011 to create replicas of patients’ organs in preparation for surgery. Dr. Sugimoto believes that 3D printers can take medicine to the next level. But bioprinting, a science still in its infancy, raises some moral issues that will soon need to be dealt with.
The Good, The Bad, And The Ugly
On the one hand the existence of bioprinting has a huge number of positive applications. Dental prosthetics can be made quickly and easily, and there’s a possibility that people might even be able to replace cavities with material that’s indistinguishable from natural teeth. Shattered bones can be replaced, and it’s possible for ligaments as well as organs to be put to rights using bioprinting. That’s over and above the normal uses of 3D printing such as making web-style casts over broken limbs and quickly creating simple devices that can help save patients’ lives.
The darker side of these discoveries could look like something out of a futuristic novel. While designer organs may sound like a joke, it is entirely possible that could become a trend.
The questions that need to be answered, according to some in the medical community, is how far will bioprinting go? Will it be used to print bone material and organs? Will it go further? At what point does it become akin to human cloning, and is that a good thing or a bad thing?
The technology hasn’t reached that level of development yet, but there is a definite call to answer some of these questions before technology gets too far past the point of no return.