A 3D printer prints a rectangle in a futuristic red material.

Photo Credit: all3dp.com

3D Printing Human Body Parts?!

If you need a heart transplant, maybe soon they could print it for you

The future is now

One VanIsle tech company is bringing the future to the present.

Fifty years ago, when folks were asked what they thought 2022 would look like, they might have said flying cars or time travel. But no one imagined we could print a heart.

While time travel is still (probably) a while off, three VanIsle women may have discovered the key to immortality. That is, if our surgeons can get handy enough.

Stephanie Willerth, Laila Abelseth, and Laura De la Vega are the three founders of Axolotl Biosciences, a startup founded out of the University of Victoria.

They’ve figured out how to 3D print stem cells. Stem cells are different from regular cells because they can turn into absolutely any kind of cell. It’s like magic. They’re what turns into humans in the womb.

Because stem cells can turn into any kind of cell, it means they can be used to print out any organ in the human body.

Pretty sci-fi, right?

So far, the tech team has bioprinted brain tissue, heart tissue, and more stem cell tissue. Another biotech company recently 3D printed a woman a whole new ear.

While Axolotl is not the only player in the bioprinting game, they came up with a huge game changer.

Most of the printers are really rough on the cells. The cells often die pretty quick after being printed.

The women running Axolotl came up with a hydrogel solution that helps keep the cells alive. The hydrogel is really good at protecting “especially delicate cells, like stem cells,” Willerth told Capital Daily.

If we can get 3D printed body parts right, they could reshape the way we treat disease and injuries. We could even regenerate ourselves and replace “old” parts.

“I think it’s really going to open up the doors for other tissues to be bioprinted as well,” said Willerth.

For now, this is still futuristic. But it’s quickly getting closer to the present. And Axolotl is being recognized and paid for the technology they’ve developed.

Axolotl was given $265,000 in co-funding earlier this month from Next Gen Manufacturing Canada. The funding is for research into ink that can be used to print human brain tissue.

They also won Campbell River’s Nexstream competition in the healthcare and emergency preparedness category.

They’ve built a clientele that spans from the US to Japan to Australia.

For good reason. “Seeing strong adoption by clinicians, researchers, and doctors is a clear indication that we are growing in the right direction,” Willerth told Victoria Tech Journal.

Growing both metaphorically and literally in this case.

While they’re busy growing, we’ll let our hopes to live forever grow a little too.