Medical animation and 3D animation are often considered the premier digital instruments used by the medical community. Both are great tools of communication and education for professional doctors, causal hospital staff and patients alike.

But much like a resilient viral strand, technology is evolving and it’s about to introduce something new to the medical domain. With the descent of smaller, more economical 3D printing machines, 3D printing is about to form the healing trinity of digital-to-real medical tech, along with medical and 3D animation. The third industrial revolution may be coming soon, as the new custom models of 3D printers are now able to craft organs.

3D printing is the process of creating a full 3-dimensional object by using rendered images imputed through a computer. The 3D printer melts material (powder or polymer) to a desired softness and sculpts the object by a process of layering, to build up the pre-programmed item. Right now, this process is mostly used to build everyday household items and other trinkets, but the keen minds of Wake Forest University scientists have created a new approach that makes printing organs a possibility.

The new process of printing biological components is an incredible achievement in the medical industry. But it is still in the embryonic stages of development, as living parts are a complicated to recreate due to complex cellular structures. The challenge: cells need to be fed by tiny capillaries (a network of blood vessels), and the printing process needs a more streamlined approach to create specially sized capillaries. The bio material also needs to be of proper consistency and thickness at several stages of the printing process, or the cells within the housing will die.

The work continues, smoothing out any oddities in the process. By injecting living cells, with a dose of nutrients strands, into a polymer-based liquid the scientists are able to shape this biological clay into simple organs such as tiny ears and jawbones. It’s important to note, that this bioprinting process is still in the testing stage. Before this new tech can be applied to patients in need of organ or limb replacement, more research is needed, along with a stronger oversight by industry regulators. Every new idea needs sometime to grow and be introduced to the market. Bioprinting is no exception.

All the upcoming challenges will not deter all the white coat heroes and their research, as the hope of individuals getting a needed transplant made out of their own cells, is well worth the trials and tribulations. There is already a substantial effort in place to support this innovative tech. A brave new world is starting to take shape. New technology, despite its initial intent or application, always springs disruption to the accepted and followed societal standards. The progress of innovative technology is akin to a converging tsunami that swallows anything in its path. Just as  medical animation, bioprinting is poised to impact the healthcare industry in a large way. Steady the course and absorb knowledge, you’ll never know what can surface out of the new bio-printed embryonic clay.

Author: Tomasz Juszkiewicz