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Can 3D Printing Help Fight Cancer?

How 3D-printed lungs could be the future of asbestos illnesses.

Advancements in medical science seem to be happening at near-light speed. The mere idea of growing tissues and organs from stem cells seemed like science fiction a few years ago, but much of it is already a reality. 3D-printed lungs could very well hold the key to future treatments and cures for asbestos-related disease.

How 3D Printing Works

NASA is one of the largest users of current 3D printing construction. They can build tools that are made of durable, ultra-light materials for use in space. This same process of building layer upon layer of materials using a three-dimensional plan is being used to help construct organs with live cells and tissue. Layer by layer of cells are added, using collagen to hold everything in place. The “copied” organ will be made to the exact specifications given in the plans.

Asbestos-Related Lung Disease and Bio-printing Technology

Chronic lung disease and cancer caused by asbestos handling and exposure account for many types of illnesses that can end up life-threatening to the people diagnosed. Asbestosis, emphysema, chronic obstructed pulmonary disease (COPD), and pulmonary fibrosis are only a few of the serious health results from breathing in asbestos fibers. Mesothelioma can strike as many as 20 years after exposure (you can read more about this cancer here). The same bio-printing science that is used to create new healthy tissue and skin is now being employed to try and find the ultimate cure for serious lung disease. 

A Boost in Traditional Lung Treatment for Asbestos-Damaged Lungs

Asbestos-related illnesses have the ability to develop into life-threatening problems like cancer. Malignancies can spread from the lungs, or tissues surrounding these vital organs, to the liver, heart, kidneys, and other spots through the circulatory and lymphatic system. Traditional treatments are surgery, chemotherapy, radiation, or other targeted medicinal tools. 3D lung printing can offer a perfect view of what is going on with your specific health condition for your medical team, giving it a greater advantage in devising a treatment strategy. 

How 3D Printing Can Improve Survivability Odds

Serious lung disease can sometimes only be cured through drastic procedures, such as a total lung transplant. “This option is not very attractive, even to those with severe disease, because it’s a very expensive procedure that only has a 10 to 20% survival rate after 10 years,” says Todd Budnicoff of CIRM, California's Stem Cell Agency. “On top of that, donor lungs are in very short supply." This low rate of survivability has everyone looking with hope towards the advancements being made in bio-printing possibilities. This technology could feasibly eliminate the lack of available healthy organs. 

Recent Success in 3D Lung Printing

Researchers in the Czech Republic have successfully created a 3D printed lung that works. With this model, they are able to study and practice for intricate procedures, surgeries, and treatments before implementing the medical plan for a patient. The lung is also able to demonstrate the effectiveness of new drugs targeting specific problems like asthma. This was the big breakthrough needed to demonstrate that many more advancements are possible. 

The Future of Lung Transplants and 3D Printing

Asbestos exposure can lead to conditions that seriously incapacitate the ability of the lungs to take in the oxygen needed for survival. These fibers will harden over time and lead to a condition called pulmonary fibrosis, which generally requires a lung transplant in order to survive for any length of time. There looks to be a time in the not-too-distant future when lungs will be grown custom-fit for your body. This, combined with advancements in DNA science could lead to a complete elimination of organ rejection. 

Ongoing research efforts will continue to improve the availability of helpful medications, improved treatments, and ultimately the ability to transplant new lungs that are custom-grown and disease-free. There is a belief within the medical research community that a permanent cure lies in the continued development of this technology, which can completely eradicate asbestos-related illness.

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