3D Bioprinting


3D Printing is no longer news although I suspect most people haven’t heard of it yet. In fact there is a company within a couple of km of my office in Albany already successfully offering a variety of 3D printing services, incidentally called 3D Print. Another Aucklander, well known internationally in the  3D printing with RepRap is Vik Oliver, seen here with one of his machines.

When I heard that Richie McCaw was injured and after surgery was going to miss around 6 matches after having a titanium screw in his foot, my first reaction was, as most Kiwis, just what we need in Rugby World Cup year as he is such an amazing skipper and we want him there leading the All Blacks. Then I thought about so many other sports people who suffer injuries all the time given that they are putting their bodies on the line professionally.

Imagine a technology that rebuilds or repairs body tissue, bones, ligaments, even organs in vivo, using micro surgery techniques that mean people recover far more quickly, naturally and potentially therefore stronger than before.

Using the same types of technologies as conventional 3D printing, it will soon be possible to pattern and assemble, layer by layer, functioning living tissue, as well as non living substitutes such as ceramic and titanium according to Vladimir Mironov, an associate professor and director of the Advanced Tissue Biofabrication Center at the Department of Regenerative Medicine and Cell Biology, Medical University of South Carolina. He is also currently making waves about growing in vitro meat, something I have previously blogged about.

So this is a relatively new technology and I don’t know that it has been tested on humans yet, but the technology is already commercially available from companies such as envisionTEC.

Imagine the good this technology could do for people with problems from injuries, burns, through to the huge numbers of people who die for lack of organs for transplant.

The following video shows how bioprinters will be used in the long term. The technology will also be used to create human tissues which can be used for drug testing instead of using animals.

Of course if tissues and organs are made using material from the host, we can eliminate problems such as donor organ rejection.

Canteen’s Bandanna Week


When I was 8, my best mate died of leukemia, also aged 8. It was hard to comprehend, he had been sick for a long time and his family were very religious and somehow managed to cope. Since then another good friend died aged 20, just when life was going really well for her. Her partner who was totally devoted to her was obviously devastated and spending time with them at home and in hospital during her chemo visits was very difficult. She kept up a very brave face, but it was obvious that she was struggling with fear, dissapointment, frustration, why me, nausea, hair loss, energy loss, anguish for her partner and her family, I could keep going, but you get the picture.

New Zealand is highly regarded when it comes to cancer. When my late grandmother came to New Zealand on holiday, she had a collostomy bag, she had one kidney and had spent a year in hospital with over 50 operations. New Zealand was one of the few countries her doctors were confident about her visiting because of the reputation of care here.

We pay taxes for health care and some of it goes to research, but there are many more services that are essential, and today I have a Canteen bandanna around my neck as a tiny contribution of recognition to some of the services that Canteen facilitates.

One of the most important ones in my book is support. There is noone better to help a young cancer sufferer than someone who has been through it and uderstands what they are experiencing and going through. Noone else can really empathise.

According to a statement on Infonews there are currently 12,500 young people up to the age of 24 living with cancer or a sibling and this grows by hundreds each year.

The $4 donation I gave seems pitiful, but if 4,000,000 of us do it, it might be a different story. There are other opportunities. There are a number of bandannas on Trade Me signed by celebrities. There was supposed to be one signed by Elle McPherson, but I couldn’t find out, so I’ve put a bid on one signed by Donald Trump.

Anyway, Canteen does an awesome job and I hope they raise loads of money for this important cause. Let’s make these young people’s lives mean something and give them a lending hand.

I’m also planning one or more songs about cancer, but you’ll have to keep an eye on my Songwriting blog in the coming weeks to learn more about that.

In Vitro Grown Meat – Feeding the Future


The other day I was thinking about the proposed manned Mars trip and trying to get my head around how to feed a number of astronauts for a 1,000 day trip in a small space craft. The thought was started while reading an article about Cosmic Rays, which are a potential threat to astronauts, but that is entirely another discussion.

Our planet today has a number of problems in being able to feed a growing population, which combined with major droughts in some parts of the world and heavy rains in others, exacerbated or caused by global warming, we are already in a situation of food crisis. If you are reading this blog, you probably don’t personally have a problem, but the problem is nevertheless there.

The first problem, which is the most difficult, is poverty. According to the World Hunger Education Service, almost 1 billion people have incomes of no more than US$1 per day. That doesn’t buy a whole lot of food.

Given the climate conditions, growth of population, finding the ground to plant sufficient crops that are not labour and water intensive is difficult and another issue is lack of certain key needs such as proteins.

One option for this going forward could be to grow food in vats. All kinds of food could be grown in vats and they have been doing this in Science Fiction books for close to 100 years. Now vegetable matter, fungus and yeast are relatvely easy, meat is a different story.

As I continued on my thread, I was thinking about chicken being one of the most popular if not the most popular meat being eaten today. The way they bread chickens in poultry farms for meat or eggs is commonly regarded as cruelty although the farmers will argue that they have little choice.

Tissue engineering is a science that has been around for quite a while. In fact if you have a child today, you already have the option of harvesting the stem cells from your baby’s umbilical cord. Cordbank in New Zealand offers cryogenic storage of your baby’s umbilicus, so that if your child ever got cancer and needed fresh stem cells, they are there and ready. The Stem Cells have your child’s exact DNA, so there are no risks of rejection if they are needed and at this stage they have no age damage. Stem cells have the inherent ability to become pretty much any human organ.

Tissue engineering has the potential to not only save lives, but also to prolong it. In future it could be used to help people recover from brain injuries and perhaps condiions such as Parkinsons Disease. It can help with regenerating heart tissue and much much more.

It can also be used to generate food. Distasteful as it may sound, I’m sure in the future if you were offered fish chunks that were made in a lab in a double blind test with real fish of the same sort, you would struggle to tell whch one was real. This isn’t Sci-Fi, it has already been achieved. One of the motives for this research was the type of space travel I mentioned at the beginning of this blog.

If you could eat nice white chicken meat that was tender and had the same texture you expected, but no chickens were mistreated or battery grown in cramped conditions, i.e. no sentience and no pain. Why wouldn’t you? If you could provide healthy food to millions of people in environments where they otherwise couldn’t get it and would suffer from malnutrition and eventually die a horrible death, why not?

I’m not sure what, if any research in tissue engineering is happening in NZ, but we have the credentials to do it and government support for biotechnology. In the medical world there is plenty happening such as the orthopaedic research at Otago University. If I’m lucky, I could live longer because of this research. I would love to see 120 or 130 years on this planet, and not vegetating in a rest home, wouldn’t you?