3D printing has advanced past the stage of growing ears on mice. Some body parts are able to be printed up, implanted and function about as good as the original — including arms.
Five year old Hayley Fraser, from Scotland, was born without complete fingers on her left hand, so her parents went to American-based En-able, for help. Hayley is believed to be the first United Kingdom child to get a prosthetic hand made almost entirely from 3D printing.
In a procedure that takes a few days to finish, a canner, through a tablet computer, measures from multiple points. The dimensions are then sent to a 3D printer that prints out the arm. Building the arm one layer at a time, the system is controlled by a 12V actuator that allows for horizontal movement. This ability makes the mechanism more precise than the traditional ways of using plaster molds.
The science, called regenerative medicine, has already been successful in engineering skin, cartilage, bladders, urine tubes and blood vessels. The body parts, were manufactured in a lap, and successfully implanted in patients. The structures were able to get oxygen and nutrients from near by tissues until they developed their own blood vessels for supply.
The "holy grail" of regenerative medicine has always been to have the ability to engineer complex organs like the kidney, liver and heart. The organs are very dense and need the ability to tap into their own oxygen supply to ensure survivability. Building a scaffold of sorts with a full vasculature has steered scientists towards the idea of removing cells from donor organs and replacing them with a patient's own cells.
Researches have already used scaffolds from rodents and pigs to engineer heart, liver and lung scaffolds. When re-populated with organ-specific cells, the organs have been able to produce some of the functions of original organs in the lab. Pits are used in the research because of the similarities to humans when it comes to organ structure and size.