In Avengers: Age of Ultron one of the sci-fi gadgets we’re introduced to is a machine that uses an artificial polymer to replace injured flesh. While it’s mostly used as a plot device to get Hawkeye back on his feet when he sustains a nasty wound in the opening fight sequence, that machine might not be just another comic book prop for much longer. In fact, 3D printing companies are on the verge of printing your new body parts as we speak.
How Does That Work?
To be clear, we’re not talking about 3D printing prosthetics or mechanical limbs; we’re talking about printing out tissue that merges with your body. So if you need a new ear, a new nose, a new heart valve, you just print one out, install it surgically, and your body will incorporate the tissue as its own.
Sounds like a fantasy, doesn’t it? Well, thanks to a material called Celleron that fantasy may quickly become a reality, according to 3DPrinting.com.
The way it works is that a basic scaffold is printed, creating the shape of the organ in question. Once the scaffold has been created it’s saturated with proteins and other materials, which turns it into a composite material. In Wales at Swansea University, for example, a team of researchers has used this material (along with a healthy dose of stem cells) to replicate one of the most complex structures in the human body; an ear.
Where Will We Go From Here?
While bio-printers are currently in use all over the world for research, it’s hard to say when success in the lab will translate to success in the field. However, given that the technology has moved from fiction to the lab in a relatively short time, there’s a good chance we’ll see 3D printed organs replacing mechanical prosthetics soon.