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Moser: Will 3-D Printing Lead to Better Organs, Prolonged Life?

By Connie Moser May 4, 2014 9:30 am

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What was the most amazing thing you saw or read on the internet this week? I watched this TED talk. If you are not familiar with TED talks, you definitely should investigate. Videos are produced by a non-profit organization, shared globally, and are intended to both educate and inspire us all in 18 minutes or less.

The video I watched explains Biomechatronics. What’s that, you ask? That, my friends, is something many of us loved more than 35 years ago. The catch phrase; “Gentlemen, we can rebuild him.” became part of our vocabulary for many years. The opening of each episode of the Six Million Dollar Man started with our hero, Steve Austin, a man barely alive.

I adored that show and the spinoff, The Bionic Woman, with Lindsay Wagner. I loved the idea that science and technology could repurpose a life, save someone from near complete destruction, and make them “better, faster, stronger” than they were before.

The TED talk features Hugh Herr, who lost both legs in a climbing accident 30 years ago. He is now the head of the MIT Media Lab’s Biomechatronics group. The TED video shows his incredible technology in a talk that’s both technical and deeply personal — with the help of ballroom dancer Adrianne Haslet-Davis, who lost her left leg in the 2013 Boston Marathon bombing, and performs again for the first time on the TED stage.

Similarly, another 30 year old technology has arrived in the current world with the advent of affordable 3-D printers. People are printing cars you can drive, guns that will shoot, jet parts, football cleats, toys…HOUSES!

Once again, though, the medical field is the notable arena for 3-D printers. We are already manufacturing artificial limbs. We are already printing bones and skin, hearts and lungs. The future is nearly unrecognizable as we develop and perfect organs and tissues that combined with our own stem cells to make replacement parts as needed. Here’s a great interactive video from CNN to help you understand the implications of 3-D printing.

It’s sometimes hard for me to fathom how, in our modern world with so many exciting inventions, children are still starving. Millions of people are still out of work. In many parts of the world death comes from lack of clean drinking water or simple medications.

I ponder the possibilities of life not just improved by technology, but extended. What will that longevity mean to the scarce resources of our world? Will we become so overcrowded by bringing new life into the world without losing old folks, we will be forced to fight for food and water?

More likely, the reality will be much as it is now. Very wealthy people will have access to the 3-D health enhancements to extend their lives, while those without resources will live their “normal” life span.

Those question may seem inconceivable today, but don’t forget 45 years ago, we thought those portable Star Trek communicators were impossible.

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