Scientists at Wake Forest University in Winston-Salem, North Carolina, are making startling advances in the area of regenerative medicine, suing 3D printing technology to produce scaffolding upon which human cells can grow, to create features such as ears and noses that look real. Rather than putting down ink, the 3D printer deposits a biodegradable gel-like scaffold and a mixture of cells.
At the moment, prosthetic ears are made using an unnatural material with a texture similar to Styrofoam; or built from a patient’s rib, which is painful and difficult. Neither option results in external ears that work well or look good.
Although growing functioning organs such as lungs is still some time off, bioengineers have had success growing and utilising blood vessels in patients, by making use of 3D printing technology.
Wake Forest’s 3D printer has already created a kidney prototype, and its scientists are hard at work figuring out how to make custom-made hearts, livers and lungs, too.