A few short years ago, the idea that we’d be able to “print” human “parts” was unthinkable. In fact, the mere thought provoked passionate moral and ethical debates. If we could, should we? Is there some line that we’d cross over in the process?
Yet the idea of prosthesis isn’t new. The iconic wooden legged pirate from children’s stories was a toddler’s step towards the creation of our ability to reproduce limbs. Since then, we’ve seen double amputee sprinters compete in the olympics against “able-bodied” competitors, ironically leading to discussions that the double amputee was somehow “advantaged” through the technology in his carbon fiber “legs”.
Dental implants certainly aren’t new, but what about the ability to model an entire jaw? Suppose we could load an image of a human jaw, taken through MRI, then manipulate that image through CAD, and send the results to a 3D printer to create an exact replica of the jaw to be replaced? Suppose that jaw was impacted by bone cancer and it’s removal was paramount to the saving of that persons life? Or the toddler, born without a functioning outer ear though some genetic variant. Could we simply “print” a new ear of living cells, which would mature to be human tissue, indistinguishable from the other cells in her body? What of our ability to create custom therapies, optimized for our bodies, our heights and weights, and body mass and activity level and age and any of thousands of other factors that may affect our response to such agents? Would the end of the “broad brush” approach to treatment mart the next evolution of human health care? The shape, composition, size, and even dosage administration could be tailored to a patient based on data we know.
As soon as regulators catch up, and printing continues to mature, this reality will be at our doorsteps. So the printing of medicine is not a luxury innovation, rather medical printing will force us away from broad-spectrum medicine and medical devices and towards a personal medical future. A future of “Me-dicine”.