Printing a human kidney
Perhaps I’m being presumptuous and I am going to assume you have read some of my research on the technology, care and feeding of your printer. If so, you are already familiar with the fact that the print head is the heart of your printer.
Delving into our previous material. You know that the print head while an ambiguous part of daily life is actually an amazing piece of technology that delivers a spot of “ink” smaller than the diameter of a human hair.
If you have not read some of the other articles here, you may wonder why I put the word ink, in quotation marks. It is because the print head can and does deliver “ink” that is a bit more specialized than the stuff you’re putting in your printer without a second thought.
Consider these examples. Using a specialized ink in combination with a specialized transfer paper, the printheads can take an image from your screen and print to the transfer paper in reverse. Transfer paper is then taped down to a specialized piece of glass, or ceramic, such as a tile or coffee mug.
The specialized glass or ceramic actually has a clear coating, not unlike a good solid lacquer finish. However, the finish when heated to a high temperature becomes semi permeable. When combined with pressure, the ink is forced through the now permeable finish, thereby transferring a full-color image. Once the finish cools and becomes solid again. Even to the point of being top rack dishwasher safe!
Another variation of specialized inks are sometimes referred to as ‘museum quality’. The printhead delivers these inks to an acid-free paper. The ink itself is UV resistant and highly stable, typically guaranteeing about 100 years before deterioration. The end result is faithful reproductions of rare artwork can be displayed at many points of the earth, simultaneously.
Arguably, a glass trophy with full-color graphics, or a full-color promotional coffee mug is healthy for the ego. And believe it or not, the printhead is responsible for literally saving lives.
At a TED conference in March 2011 Surgeon Anthony Atala showed the audience a standard HP printer printing a human bone, which was then implanted in a patient in need of a new one. I would call that amazing, however his revealing that they’re working on a sort of a giant flatbed scanner that would operate while the patient is lying flat on a bed. And their game plan is to scan an injured area, and then ‘print’ a repair directly onto the human body.
There is no concern about tissue rejection because the “ink” is human cells that have been grown using the patient’s own cell structure. Lest you think this is some sci-fi idea, in this slightly under 17 min. presentation, a young man (Luke Massella) came on stage to tell the audience how his life was changed 10 years ago when he received a manufactured bladder.
The surgeon revealed a striking fact that 90% of people waiting for an organ transplant are looking for a new kidney. While still in prototype, Dr. Atala demonstrates live the printing of a life kidney, in less than eight hours.
Let me assure you, this is not some perverse joke. It would be unkind to make jokes about human suffering. Here is the link of the video so you can see for yourself. If English is not your strong suit, subtitles are available in 24 languages.