For a second, let’s throw consumer tech aside, because by far the most exciting technological development to hit the big time this decade has to be 3D printing. We’ve seen plenty of practical medical uses for the new technology, which uses massive (or sometimes not-so-massive) industrial printers to create objects from solid materials using an additive, layering process. The goal of creating viable organs and other body parts to be used for transplants has been spoken of a lot as very much within reach. Today, we have a more concrete example – the trachea.
This New York Daily News report follows Dr. Faiz Bhora and his research team at St. Luke’s and Roosevelt Hospitals, who are getting close to developing a 3D-printed human trachea that could be used for both adults ravaged by respiratory illnesses and infants born with malformed respiratory systems. The trachea would be printed using biological materials and – as is the advantage of 3D-printed body parts – would be customized for each individual patient.
The report mentions a few times when a synthetic trachea or breathing tube was used in operations – with mixed results. What makes this development different is that the 3D-printed trachea would be minimalist in structure. It would then be combined with stem cells in order to create a new trachea that would actually grow along with the patient. In this way, the likelihood of the body’s immune system rejecting the implant as a foreign object would be decreased, as the body would be actively integrating the trachea while the stem cells around it differentiate into the cartilage that by and large makes up the mass of the trachea.
The team believes they are a few years away from being able to implement the new technology in human cases writ large – for now, they’re continuing testing, currently with a pig. That pig, which received its 3D-printed trachea three months ago, is doing well, and the team has confirmed that the trachea is growing as the pig grows. So far, so good.