Have you thought about printing a heart, a kidney or even a lung and save many lives? They look like movie scenes from Science fiction, but the point is that this has already advanced in reality too.

Of course, the subject is still frightening. After all, how is it possible to print an organ? First, we need to understand that the tech allows us that. The 3D printer can create objects in three-dimensional format. With it, it is possible to draw any type of item in computer programs and print.

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This technology has already advanced in several sectors, such as in automobile, and is taking some steps in medicine as well. One study by Transparent Marketing Research forecasts an average annual growth of 17,7% in the 3D device market until 2025. Not so far away, this technology will become common and applied in several medical areas in Brazil and worldwide.

Even while facing the coronavirus pandemic, the 3D printer has been used to minimize the devastating effects on health and save lives. Its use makes it possible to create an oxygen valve and pump, prototype masks and protective visors.

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However, this technology was not only tested because of the pandemic. On the contrary, it is already a study tool for many scientists. In 2019, at Tel Aviv University in Jerusalem (Israel), a live heart made from human tissue was presented with a 3D printer. It was the first time that anyone managed to design and print an entire heart, filled with cells, blood vessels, ventricles and chambers.

The researchers at the University of São Paulo (USP) used human blood cells to develop “mini-livers”. They perform the same functions as a normal liver: they synthesize proteins, store and secrete substances unique to the organ, such as albumin.

The two experiences open the way for transplants to be carried out without the long waiting lines and minimizing the risk of rejection, as the organs are made with the patient's own cells. But these are just some of the possibilities that the 3D printer can provide to improve the quality of life of patients.

A Racounter publication shows a girl who lost her hands as a baby to meningitis. Almost ten years later, the first clinical trial in England of a new model of prosthesis developed new limbs. Detail: the process took only one day and the cost was much lower than a prosthesis with controllable fingers.

Engineer demonstrates the heart printed on a 3D printer
Engineer demonstrates the heart printed on a 3D printer. Credits: Shutterstock

In Northern Ireland there was also another case that shows how 3D technology was decisive. A woman was diagnosed with terminal kidney cancer and had a new organ that she would receive from her father through a transplant. However, during routine examination, the patient's father discovered a potentially cancerous cyst in the kidney intended for donation. Doctors had the opportunity to analyze an exact replica of the three-dimensionally printed kidney.

the future of medicine

If we continue to be successful in these experiments, we will soon see 3D printing invading hospitals and doctors' offices around the world. Currently, according to the report by Racounter, the greatest demand is for orthopedic implants and dental restorations, which should continue for years to come.

Another point that must be celebrated is the economy in a procedure with the use of a 3D printer. Forbes magazine reveals that by the end of 2021, the three-dimensional technology should be worth at least $1,3 billion. In addition, he points out that a normal kidney transplant, for example, costs an average of US$ 330, according to the US National Foundation for Transplants. However, there are startups, like BioBots, that sell “biological 3D printers” for just $10. All of this shows that we will soon be able to see the values ​​of various procedures drop, which is something very positive.

Although the subject has been under discussion for some time, we can say that this is all relatively new and curious, but that it will be more and more frequent in our daily lives, with news that will still surprise us. We are one step away from the medicine of the future. Are you prepared?

* Alessandra Montini is director of LabData, FIA

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