Last December, Organovo 3d Printing announced that they had partnered up with AutoDesk‘s Bio/Nano/Programmable Matter Research Group to develop CAD software that enables one to design, engineer and of course share 3D models of organs that can be printed. This is an incredible development that lends credibility to what was considered fiction and what is now a definite fact – you can 3D print organs. AutoDesk’s job is to make it easier for you to design them first. Looking deeper, what’s the next step?

From the outside, Organovo’s NovoGen MMX Bioprinter looks not unlike a CNC gantry with several syringes attached, although there is a lot more than that. One academic publication describes it….

[Bioprinting is] a technology wherein multicellular aggregates are delivered by special purpose bioprinters with high precision into biocompatible scaffolds to form three dimensional tissue constructs of specified geometry.  Our delivery devices presently are the linear cell aggregate dispenser mounted on a computer controlled 3D robotic device. We have printed toroidal cellular patterns and are currently printing tubular and cuboidal  constructs.

Or better yet… a picture. I guess we’re all visual learners on GrabCAD?


How to ‘Lend a Hand’

AutoDesk is jumping into what could be an explosive field. Thousands of people die needlessly every day from not receiving the transplant they need. Often those donated organs are not theirs, meaning there is a risk that their own body would attack and reject the part that they need to survive. According to Organovo, it is possible to print with your own cells the parts you need, thus averting organ rejection. Bioprinting provides the means to create an actual structure.

However, this technology isn’t ready to “print and transplant” persay. Rather, it’s good enough for testing drugs, carrying out research or making small parts (blood vessels, for example). But that shouldn’t stop us from formulating a few wild hypothesis of what an impact Bioprinting could have on the World and perhaps ourselves!


Human Eye by GrabCADr and ‘BioEngineer’ Bobby Dyer

For all the diversity of humans, the design ‘blueprints’ are the same. The very veins, hearts, lungs and so forth are ‘interchangeable’ like a tire (to a limit of course). Which begs the question – are we going to be sharing the blueprints? Probably so – perhaps in a restricted sense. But is that fair? That’s another question.

Let’s toy with a hypothetical. If you died and donated your body to Science, and the doctors had scan parts of you and put you up on some website called GrabCAD, what are the implications. Hospitals would be downloading and printing your own blueprints, like your hands or maybe your heart, and giving life to those nearly without it. In the most unusual way, you’d be living on. Perhaps forever. Parts of you, that is.

Bioprinter Holdout

That’s not the only peculiar scenario. It is completely plausible for someone to augment and improve their bodies. We’ve already heard of a few GrabCADrs using existing models and altering them to fix particular problems. Like a new fender, wheel, toys…. it’s the new paradigm of sharing. And collaborating too. But the difference is that the parts are the parts that literally make ourselves whole. Seems outrageous, but if by next year I can download AutoDesk BioCAD, buy a Organovo NovoGen MMX Bioprinter and at least make a few rudimentary organs, how outrageous is it to make useable ones by the end of this decade?


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