It seems like something from a science fiction plot: so-called three-dimensional printers are being used to fashion hands and prosthetic arms, jaw bones, spinal cord implants — and one day perhaps living human body parts.
While the parts printed for humans so far happen to be fashioned from plastic, metal and other inorganic substances, research workers in California and elsewhere also have started printing living tissue, with the goal of eventually applying these “bioprinters” to create customized kidneys, livers and other organs for individuals needing transplants. What’s especially appealing about the technology, according to its proponents, is that 3D printers can produce body parts more affordable and much faster than other methods.
“You can make things for tens of dollars rather than thousands of dollars,” said Stanford University professor Dr. Paul Wang, a cardiovascular and bioengineering specialist who is among those analyzing the printers’ potential for prosthetics, replacement bones and other uses. “It’s completely opened up what’s possible.”