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These tiny 3D-printed organs could save your life

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To paraphrase the great Derek Zoolander, "What are these, organs for ants?".

A team of biologists from Wake Forest Institute for Regenerative Medicine in Winston-Salem, North Carolina have taken the first steps to replicating an entire human body on a microchip by 3D-printing a working set of microscopic hearts and livers. But you can ditch any thoughts of a 3D-printer replacing your GP just yet. 

Roughly 0.25 millimetres in diameter (a shade bigger than a human hair), the tiny hearts and livers - known as organoids - were created by "reprogramming" human skin cells to behaving like heart and liver cells, before being 3D-printed into the correct shape and filled with cell culture. 

The $24 million (£16m) project isn't aiming to create its own micro Frankenstein's monster: by developing working human organs, the team at Wake Forest Institute are hoping to do away with the need for expensive, ethically questionable animal testing. Should the project prove successful, future medical treatments and disease research can be tested out on chips containing 3D-printed organs rather than live subjects.

But if you'd set your (actual) heart on your own 3D-printed organ, you're in luck. Italian research studio MHOX has unveiled a scheme that will allow customers to "swap" their eyes for lab-grown products - preventing blindness, sharpening usual levels of sight and even allowing users to install wi-fi connectivity, streaming their own view to other sources. 

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"Latest developments in bioprinting and biohacking let us imagine that in the near future it would be possible to easily print organic, functional body parts, allowing the human to replace defected districts or enhance standard performance," said Filippo Nassetti, MHOX partner and lead designer.

When ideas you last saw in Minority Report start cropping up in scientific reports, you know it's only a matter of time before clones start serving you Big Macs and Google runs for World President. 

[Via: New Scientist, Dezeen]

(Images: Wake Forest Institute, MHOX)

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