Additive manufacturing, also known as 3D printing, was first developed in the mid-1980s. Initially used for industrial applications such as rapid prototyping, it fell dramatically in cost during the 2010s and became available to a much wider audience.*
Arguably the most transformative breakthroughs were occurring in health and medicine. Customised, 3D-printed body parts were saving peoples’ lives and included artificial jaw bones,* bioresorbable splints for breathing* and replacement skull parts,* among many other uses. Non-critical applications included dental implants* and exoskeletons to assist with mobility and joint movement.*
Even greater advances were taking place, however. 3D printing was no longer limited to inorganic materials like polymers or metals. It was being adapted to construct living, biological systems. Layer after layer of cells, dispensed from printer heads, could be placed exactly where needed with precision down to micrometre scales. Initially demonstrated for simple components like blood vessels and tissues,** more sophisticated versions later emerged in combination with scaffolds to hold larger structures in place. Eventually, the first complete organs were developed with sufficient nutrients, oxygen and growth vectors to survive as fully-functioning replacements in mouse models.
By 2025 – after testing on animals – customised 3D-printing of major human organs is becoming feasible for the first time.** Although yet to be fully perfected (as certain types of organs remain too complex), this is nevertheless a major boost for life extension efforts. In the coming decades, more and more of the 78 organs in the human body will become printable.*