The technology is the same as that of the simple inkjet printer found in homes and offices, but Japanese scientist Makoto Nakamura is on a mission to see if it can also produce human organs.
The idea is that the printer jets out thousands of cells per second instead of ink droplets, and builds them up into a three-dimensional organ. Nakamura compares the process to building a huge skyscraper on a micro level using different kinds of cells and other materials instead of steel beams, concrete and glass.
The ultimate goal the Japanese scientist is to make a heart. In case of success this would give hope for many patients waiting for heart transplants, as a heart made of cells originating from the patient could eliminate fears that the body would reject it.
The very technology works a bit like dealing with sliced fruit: an organ is cut horizontally, allowing researchers to see an array of cells on the surface. If a printer drops cells one by one into the right spots and repeats the process for many layers, it creates a 3D organ.
Much like a printer chooses different colors, the machine can position different types of cells to drop. The printer can adjust where to drop cells in the order of one-thousandth of a millimeter and produce a tube at a speed of three centimeters per two minutes.
Nakamura dismisses the idea of printing brains or trying to create new life. He says he’s thinking about making superhuman cyborgs. There are simply lives that could be saved if there are organs.
In the future, Nakamura also said the technology could pave the way for bioprinting with stem cells — which could go into building healthy new organs.