While I do not have a science background, I’ve always had an interest in the incredible advances that the medical field has been able to achieve through the years. One of the most incredible advances potentially coming down the road deals with 3-D printing technology. Now, when I first heard the term 3-D printing, I was thinking just fancy laser printing on documents and marketing material. Boy was I wrong.
3-D printing technology deals with the ability of actually printing a kidney or another human organ. I know it seems far-fetched. But it’s actually occurring in a rudimentary form already. 3-D printing has successfully been used in the healthcare sector to make prosthetic limbs, custom hearing aids and dental fixtures, but now the technology is being used to create more complex structures – particularly human tissue.
Traditional 3D printing – the term was coined by 2 MIT graduate students in 1995- is a process of making three dimensional solid objects from a digital model. 3D printing is achieved using additive processes, in which an object is created by laying down successive layers of material such as plastic, ceramics, glass or metal to print an object. Some of the largest US companies use this type of 3-D printing to manufacture parts such as Boeing, General Electric, and Honeywell.
Eventually, medical researchers hope to be able to use the printed tissue to make organs for organ replacement. However, the ability to grow functional organs is at least a decade away according to some of the leading research scientists. But that doesn’t mean other advancements are not already occurring with this new technology.
Researchers in regenerative medicine at Wake Forest University in North Carolina (where my nephew goes) partnered with the Armed Forces Institute for Regenerative Medicine to make a 3-D skin printer that deposits cells directly on a wound to help it heal quicker. Researchers at the university have also had success printing off kidney cells. Other researchers at Cornell University have printed experimental knee cartilage, heart valves and bone implants.
Bio-printing is also playing a part in how some pharmaceutical companies conduct medical research and the technology may also have the potential to save the drug companies’ significant R&D money by cutting the costs associated with drug testing.
This is because testing with 3-D tissues provides more realistic results allowing the pharmaceutical companies to determine which drugs will fail sooner in the process saving money on development. Currently, the bio-pharmaceutical companies spend tens of billions of dollars on clinical trials. The savings can allow the money to be spent on other potential solutions to perplexing human conditions.
This post is just to highlight another example of where the new technologies might take us as we proceed into the future. These medical technologies and other technologies being developed will advance the human condition allowing for a healthier world population with increased longevity. Ownership in the multiple companies developing and benefiting from these technologies which is done when we purchase of the stocks, will provide investors with the potential return of capital to provide for their retirement. This will be important as these technologies may increase human longevity even further. Another reason to be optimistic about our future.