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3D Printing and Senior Living

News January 29th, 2015
3d-printing-senior-living

The Clone Debate

It wasn’t too long ago that stem cell research was the “big” thing. One of the main reasons for pioneering the research was that it opened the doors to cloning. Of course, while some people thought, we’d clone fully-fleshed humans, that was nothing more than a science fiction concept – portrayed in several novels and movies.

Despite successfully cloning a sheep, stem cell research was the definitive plan for cloning human organs. The idea being that you wouldn’t need to worry about a donor’s blood type or being on a waiting list since we’d be able to craft our own organs to each individual; in addition, degenerative conditions could be vastly improved if we plugged stem cells into the right places.

While this would be useful for senior living, this sparked a whole cloning debate and unfortunately there’s a moralistic issue with “where” we get the majority of stem cells from.

Then 3D printing happened.

3D Printed Organs: Bioficial Hearts

I don’t know who saw the potential in 3D printing first, but it has affected senior living in more ways than one. As the title of this article suggests, doctors are close to successfully printing 3D hearts. Yep, that’s right, human hearts.

Professor Stuart K. Williams (pioneer of the project from the Cardiovascular Innovation Institute in Kentucky) successfully printed (in 3D) a coronary artery and the tiniest blood vessels and valves. He had success implanting these – on a smaller scale – with rodents, but was as humble* as he was optimistic, telling Wired that researchers will likely print a fully-functional heart in three to five years and be testing in less than ten. He goes so far as to say that, beyond that, we’re likely to see these “bioficial” hearts being produced in less than three hours – now that’s impressive!

*(We mention his humility because he rhetorically asks why we would print parts of a heart, when we can just print the heart.)

The working name for the 3D printed organ is, “bioficial heart,” being half synthetic and half organic. The doctors extract regenerative cells from the patient’s fat and places them in the bioprinter to construct the heart. Currently, they print the heart in sections, but as stated, in the future it’ll print each section in less than three hours.

Of course, there are still some hurdles to jump over.

The doctors have mentioned the difficulty with keeping the heart alive after its been printed and other labs have mentioned the struggles with keeping kidneys oxygenated. However, these are problems they recognize and are working on.

3D Printing and Senior Living

This development is huge for senior living since heart failure and heart disease are common conditions among the elderly and one of the leading causes of death. With this invention however, we’re witnessing the solution.

Obviously, this would have a huge impact on those who qualify for heart transplants since they wouldn’t need to worry about their body rejecting the donor heart since it would come from their own cells. But this is also critical for the seniors who have failing hearts, but don’t quite qualify for transplants. In fact, the professor goes so far as to say those will be the first people they begin testing on since they’ll print out parts of the heart to fix their condition.

As a bonus, this not only impacts senior living, but even our youth. Many children that experience heart failure cannot receive donor hearts because they’re too big for their bodies, but with this invention, they can create hearts suitable for them!

This isn’t the first time 3D printing has been used for improving senior living conditions either. 3D printing has revolutionized our ability to mass produce prosthetic limbs as well.

It’s not hard to see the benefits of this tremendous invention and it’s quite exciting to see where this goes.

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