On the morning after the Blueprint Health lunch, Demo Day, and dinner, I headed back to the Javits Convention Center for day two of the 3D Printing Conference. I was quite interested in the medical implications of 3D printing, and I was thrilled with what I learned. The opening keynote speaker was Dr. Anthony Atala, Director of the Wake Forest Institute for Regenerative Medicine. The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services called regenerative medicine the “next evolution of medical treatments”. The Wake Forest laboratory has already created 22 different human tissues, including muscles that can expand and contract. Dr. Atala said that regenerative medicine can not only improve the quality of life for many people, but save lives. With the potential to heal, Dr. Atala believes regenerative medicine will revolutionize health care.
Patients with diseased or injured organs can be treated with transplanted organs. However, there is a severe shortage of donor organs — more than 75,000 actively waiting for transplants — that is worsening yearly due to the aging population. Regenerative medicine and tissue engineering may solve the problem. By applying the principles of cell transplantation, material sciences, and bio-engineering, teams such as Dr. Atalas, are able to construct biological substitutes that may restore and maintain normal function in diseased and injured tissues. 3D printing is playing a role. Living tissue can be printed using cells (instead of ink) from the patient . Rather than replacing an entire organ, regenerative medicine uses a replacement technique that supplements a failing tissue or organ. Cells can be extracted from a functioning part of an organ, enhanced and grown outside of the body, and then be printed on a lattice structure. The result is then implanted in the patient. Since the cells came from the patients body, there is no rejection. We can expect to see major advances in the technology in the months and years ahead. Dr. Atala said that regenerative medicine “promises to be one of the most pervasive influences on public health in the modern era”.