Have you heard of 3D printing? 3D printers make objects using various types of materials—they can be used in the home, in an office (think architects designing scale models, or other types of prototypes)… or in medicine. One of the many fascinating things 3D printing can do is use cells to print organs for transplant—and it’s already being tested.
(Check out the video below where you meet one boy who’s already received a 3D printed bladder made with his own cells, as well as a look at the lab where 3D printed hearts are already beating, and 3D printed kidneys are being heavily researched—kidneys being the most in-demand organ in the US).
The technology is also leading to other developments; the US company Healthpoint Biotheraputics is in the middle of successfully testing a skin spray, that is to say, a spray of skin cells and clotting proteins for leg ulcers (although it will likely have other uses as time goes on).
Leg ulcers are caused by high blood pressure, which causes the breakdown of skin. High blood pressure still needs to be treated, since it’s the ultimate cause, but the new skin-spray has shown itself to be faster (about 3 months healing time) and successful for more patients who already have ulcers than alternative therapies like compression bandages (takes about 6 months) and skin grafts (which require creating a second wound).
Although the new treatments are expensive, they’re cheaper than the alternative. Skin infections are nasty things—hard to beat 100% and with a severe risk of more severe complications (especially if the patient has a weakened immune system, which is often the indirect cause of a skin infection to begin with). Fewer complications, fewer treatment failures, and faster patient turnaround will save both health insurers and hospitals money. If the rest of their trials are successful, expect to see new treatments available.
What an exciting time! Expect to see more ways that science is able to use your own cells to help your body repair itself.
With all the recent awful bacterial news, aren’t new treatments for such complicated problems uplifting? What do you think—would you sign up for a 3D printed kidney? Try out the new skin spray?