Updated: Aug 22, 2018
By Loret Haas-Hanser
Using technological means to advance humans further as a species is something that we have done since the dawn of time. It started with creating fire, or sharpening a slab of wood to stab a fish in the river, and has evolved into modern advancements such as 3D bioprinting. Pursuing limitless life and physiological perfection are incredible goals to strive for, and they will continue to take a lot of time. 3D bioprinting is currently still in its first breaths of life, but it has revolutionary implications in its field. 3D bioprinting combines technology and biocompatible resources to print organs and other elements in regenerative medicine. In May of 2017, Chin Siang Ong et al. successfully accomplished 3D bioprinting using stem cells.
Due to the versatile and adaptable nature of stem cells, this is an incredible breakthrough in the biotechnology field. Stem cell bioprinting allows for patient-specific applications with phenotypic variability. Metabolic cells, cardiovascular tissue, muscle tissue, and possibly the most alluring- neural tissue- can now be manufactured through 3D bioprinting. Neurons and neuronal tissue have been printed using 3D bioprinting technology, and there has been surgical implantation into human subjects. Basic accommodations were made according due to the human genome, but thanks to the addition of stem cells to the equation, human-specific neural tissue can now be created.
Using different channels, stem cell lines are injected, printed, and patterned into damaged neural tissue. Repairing damaged neural tissue is incredible, but the creation of new, fully functioning neural tissue is even more remarkable. A specialized ink is combined with live stem cells on a hydrogel, a specialized and highly absorbent form of gel. The stem cells are added to the buffer, which forms scaffolds that eventually are tweaked and dissected into fully-functioning neurons. 3D stem cell bioprinting of neurons may facilitate further development in patient-specific brain damage. Even with regards to cancer, it may be possible to remove damaged tissue or tumors and completely replace the impacted area via stem cell bioprinting, thus eliminating the need for chemotherapy or radiation.
Advances in bioengineering are miraculous and have helped save thousands of lives. Although bioengineering and bioprinting are arguably one of the the best discoveries of this century, one may wonder how far humankind is willing to go to achieve perfection. Some may see societal shortcomings as flaws, while others may see them as trademarks of uniqueness within a culture. If we are currently printing neural cells and tissue, will there be a day where we can print a fully functioning brain, or print an infinitely operative person? At what point will we stop striving for utopia and creating the ideal man, when we are merely turning man into machine?
Murphy, S. V. & Atala, A. (2014). 3D bioprinting of tissues and organs. Nature Biotechnology, 32(8), 773-785. doi: 10.1038/nbt.2958
Ong, C.S., Yesantharao, P., Huang, C. Y., Mattson, G., Boktor, J., Fukunishi, T., Zhang, H., & Hibino, N. 3D bioprinting using stem cells. Pediatric Research. doi: doi:10.1038/pr.2017.252 Artwork by Macy Chutoransky