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Printing body parts: 3D scanning technology being used in a brand new way

7:59 AM, Feb 25, 2013   |    comments
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KUSA - For those who have suffered from chronic pain or an infection in a body part, they know what it feels like to want a whole new body part to replace the one that's acting up. Bioengineers at Cornell University can now make that dream come true.

A 3D scanner has been compiling images of patient's ears, which is now being used to help scientists grow replacement body parts.

They are using 3D-imaging and printing technology to print body parts using living cells that can grow inside the body once the transplant is complete. This could mean, in the near future, patients will be able to grow their own limbs and ligaments.

Since cells can be grown from the patient's own tissue samples, there is a smaller chance of rejection. The new development may also mean less scalpels and invasive surgeries.

"The idea of being able to use inks, for example, that are alive, is really what takes this to the next level. What is coming out of the printer is alive, when we print it; it is alive when we grow it in the incubator and it's alive when it goes into a patient," Dr. Larry Bonassar, Associate Professor of Biomedical Engineering, said.

Prior to 3D-printing capabilities, cartilage has been taken from the patient's ribs or other parts of the body. Now, after the body part is scanned, the living cartilage cells are printed one layer at a time using a collagen solution that hardens and supports the cells as they multiply.

"It does sound like science fiction. It does sound crazy, but when you actually think about the medical applications to it, it's helping someone. Instead of just putting an artificial piece of metal or plastic into someone's body, you are actually helping them use their own cells to make a body part which I think is a fantastic opportunity for medicine," research student Rachel Norderg said.

Researchers at Cornell are only using printed ear so far but say the process could be used to reconstruct ears for children with birth defects and for people who have lost ears from an injury.

Scientists see a point in the future when doctors can keep a record of a patient's body scan, and if parts need replacing at a later date, they can print out an exact replica.

Morgan Aguilar contributed to this report.

(KUSA-TV © 2013 Multimedia Holdings Corporation)

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