We may not have flying cars yet, but 3D-printed organs? That sci-fi fantasy just got one step closer to reality thanks to a rapid 3D-printing method developed by University of Buffalo engineers.
Their work was recently included in a study published in the journal Advanced Healthcare Materials, which you can read here, and is also demonstrated in the frankly unsettling gif above. This sped-up footage shows a 3D printer fully constructing an artificial hand in just 19 minutes, a task that would take six hours using conventional 3D printing methods, the team said.
“The technology we’ve developed is 10-50 times faster than the industry standard, and it works with large sample sizes that have been very difficult to achieve previously,” said the study’s co-lead author Ruogang Zhao, an associate professor of biomedical engineering at the university, in a press release Friday.
The process relies on stereolithography, a longstanding 3D-printing method that uses lasers to harden liquid resin, and jelly-like substances called hydrogels, which can absorb large quantities of water without dissolving. Hydrogels are commonly used in commercial products like contact lenses, glue, and disposable diapers, though scientists have also experimented with them in potential biomedical treatments.
According to researchers, this method is particularly suited for correctly printing all the teeny tiny details in cells with embedded blood vessel networks, something that’s expected to play a critical role in the eventual production of 3D-printed human tissue and organs.
“Our method allows for the rapid printing of centimeter-sized hydrogel models. It signiﬁcantly reduces part deformation and cellular injuries caused by the prolonged exposure to the environmental stresses you commonly see in conventional 3D printing methods,” said the study’s other co-lead author, Chi Zhou, an associate professor of industrial and systems engineering at the university.
The team’s research was funded by the National Institute of Biomedical Imaging and Bioengineering and the National Institutes of Health as well as the UB School of Engineering and Applied Sciences and the Jacobs School of Medicine and Biomedical Sciences, per the press release.
The idea of 3D-printed organs still seems like futuristic mumbo jumbo to me, but I suppose if you can already eat 3D-printed meat in a 3D-printed house where you keep your 3D-printed gun, then the sky’s the limit.