3D Bioprinting: Chiasm of Art, Design, Science, Technology, Evolution

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Imagine a human organ of the future.

What does that look like in your mind’s eye? Does it look like something humans are naturally endowed with, something totally new, or something in-between? What is this organ’s function? Does it replicate natural function or somehow provide enhanced function? If so in what ways does it provide enhanced function? How does it work? Is it an implant, an extension or something else? Is it made of the host’s material or an alternative? How does it integrate with the body and other systems of the body? Does it grow with the body? How does it heal or enhance the host? How does the organ heal and enhance itself? What does it empower or enable the host to do or be?

This is where bioprinting starts for me: thinking of healing and enhancing the body, and what the body, medicine, and healthcare will look like in the future; then conducting research, designing, and using our technologies to help us to move towards that future. I work as a bioartist, leveraging science and exponential technology to explore what it means to be human ( www.amykarle.com). I use bioprinting and biotechnology in my inquiry because this arena carries the potential to drastically change what it means to be human as we now know it.

Feast of Eternity by Amy Karle

Bioprinting is not only revolutionary, it’s evolutionary.

Considering all of the research and advancements that have occurred in 3D printing, tissue engineering, and regenerative medicine thus far, the ability to bio-fabricate personalized replacement parts, and even organs appear to be on the horizon. When organs can be bioprinted on-demand for the specific needs of a patient, an external source would no longer be required – neither from artificial parts nor from a living or deceased human or animal donor. With bioprinting, genetic material could be provided from a patient’s own body for the basis of their own new bio-printed part, greatly reducing the risk of rejection. Furthermore, the new part could be tailored to a patient’s particular body size and structure. This new part would not have to look like the original part, it could be streamlined, and designed differently to perform the necessary function. When we think of creating replacement parts and enhancements in this way – bioprinting with the body’s own base materials to replace and regenerate the body – this is not only revolutionary, it’s evolutionary as well.

In addition to the creativity and technologies that it takes to envision and create replacement parts, we also have to approach this with both curiosity and caution to imagine many future case scenarios for the applications of bioprinting, tissue engineering, and regenerative medicine. For example, if we get to the point where we can create custom replacement parts, this could potentially expand our life expectancy to far longer than the current human lifespan. I foresee that personalized bioprinted parts will be initially introduced for people who medically require grafts, repairs, and for organ transplant candidates, then will cascade into replacing parts when people reach far later stages of life. If we could replace our parts as we age, we would theoretically have a younger body and could theoretically live much longer lifespans – as one example. The implication of this will be profound to our society and to our species. Embarking on this requires that we ask many difficult critical questions, employ ethics and exceptionally responsible use of biotechnology.

The amount of awareness, thoughtful consideration and innovation required for bioprinting is immense.

Bioprinting applications range from drug development, toxicology studies, tissue engineering, and organ transplantation. The applications can be extended into other research fields as well including (but not limited to) botany and archeology. Not only does this technology make working with cell assembly and complex tissue constructs available to researchers and scientists, but also artists and designers. For a large number of applications, it enables us to envision what we may bring to life: new formulas in nature, organoids, and parts as we’ve never seen before. If we were to create such forms and formulas, what would be intelligent to create? What would be life-sustaining and life-enhancing? These are some of the most fundamental questions that must be addressed when using our technologies that have the potential to permanently alter our lives, our species, our environment, and our world.

What has not yet been imagined is the real potential of bioprinting.

When one begins to acquire knowledge about the fundamentals of bioprinting processes, it’s important to realize that how-to knowledge of producing a physical bioprint only begins to scrape the tip of the iceberg. Approaching bioprinting is not just about how-to knowledge, it requires asking poignant questions, and thinking expansively, exponentially and creatively. Exponential thinking is analogous to holding a tree’s seed, envision it through to a forest ecosystem,  and picturing the whole process to an outcome like coal’s role in the circular economy. *(Ie: seed>tree> forest>death/decomposition>time/pressure/chemical/physical change>coal>use of coal>understanding coal is a non-renewable resource and searching for new options> considering how to change the way we design and make things to create a new system that can meet our needs without stripping our natural resources, nor creating waste or pollution).

With an infinite landscape of yet-undiscovered applications of bioprinting, one has the conceptual luxury of brainstorming life cycles within life cycles, thinking expansively about synthetic growth across various platforms, and envisioning transformations of the living print after it enters a new and often entirely different habitat, host organism, or atmosphere… and then further thinking what will happen from there.

It can be thrilling to think about what’s possible by affecting living things with other living processes where anything can and will react.

Bioprinting attempts to solve near-impossible challenges by designing multiple life cycles into an original seed. Forming biological material in time-based creation, bioprinting supports the creation of new forms with outstanding combinations of mechanical, material, biological, biochemical, and even electrical properties that can enable specific processes or outcomes to flourish or be muted.

The software, hardware, and materials science are mostly contained compared to what happens after this “seed” is planted inside an entirely new and sometimes volatile ecosystem. Living cells can fail, be attacked, set off unforeseen reactions, or can offend something else that depends on survival.

It is vital that we consider and think through a multitude of various positive and negative outcomes and then work towards those goals that are for the best and highest good of the planet and humanity. Bioprinting can permanently alter humanity, society, our ecosystem, and our planet. We can use these technological advancements for our good or to our demise, the outcome is not inherent in the tool itself, it is in the user’s intention, how the tool is used and how the outcome may affect the future. It is of vital importance that we work across discipline, culture, institutions, and governments to co-conceive the future we want to create, then use our tools and technologies to help us to get there.

How can you / your industry use bioprinting?

When embarking on bioprinting work, I consider the following:

  • Team/Partners
  • Resources
  • Research
  • Design (function, efficiency, ease of use)
  • Art (conceptual meaning)
  • Science /Technology
  • Materials
  • Craftsmanship
  • Impacts on Humanity
  • Scenarios
  • Philosophy / Ethics
  • Measures of Success

Regardless of industry, I encourage you to consider these aspects in bioprinting projects as each point is potential to add value.

In any industry, to think about what can be created, we have to envision and experiment creatively and imaginatively. Research isn’t enough; problem-solving, creativity and an open mind are necessary to innovate. At every step of the process, the ability to generate new ideas and connections among ideas is a critical component to bring those ideas to life. It requires working through the process with an open mind, learning as we go, and a willingness to alter our course as needed.

The greatest way to innovate is to make, to break, and then to create again.

The greatest way to innovate is to research, create, make, break, and then research and create again, retaining curiosity and innovation the entire time. This mindset of makers, creatives, and innovators is something that artists and engineers’ practice regularly, and a trait set of value to practice and develop in all fields.

Working through bioprinting also requires exploratory, imagination, and supportive collaborations that enable experimentation across disciplines and collaborating with other fields to create outcomes that are more significant than any field or individual or company could achieve on their own.

Amy Karle inspecting her work REGENERATIVE RELIQUARY (photo by ArsElectronica Vanessa Graf-2018 )

3D printing and bioprinting are spawned equally from the fields of art, design, science, and technology to positively impact humanity.

First introductions to bioprinting generally make it clear how bioprinting is based in science and technology, however, the art and design aspect cannot be overlooked as necessary parts of the process for a successful outcome. The specification and design of the experiment, as well as the specification and design of the final product, are central. Technically, good design means that the product functions well, that it is streamlined into an efficient and easy to use outcome that provides answers to a problem and/or helps people make sense of their world. To design is to problem solve. Executing solutions with fine craftsmanship is the quality that comes from creating with passion, care, and attention to detail that not only supports its function but is also admired and appreciated for its elegance in execution. Art is the consideration and thoughtful integration of what the aesthetics and form language convey, and the emotional aspect of the work. The part of the work that conveys deep fundamental truths carried throughout every step of the process from concept to completion.

The overall process requires research, investigation, stimulating imagination, envisioning creative approaches, designing a study / designing a product, and executing it with attention to detail and outcomes. This outlines the process of artists and scientists alike. Asking poignant questions helps point us to more poignant answers (or more questions). Science and art are both dedicated to asking big questions like What is true? What is the purpose/meaning? What is important?  A bioprinter is simply a tool, but it is also the potential of the questions, designs, and meaning behind those questions and designs that can bring forms to life and even help to positively impact the world.

About the Author:

Amy Karle is an internationally award-winning bioartist whose work can be seen as artifacts of a speculative future where digital, physical and biological systems merge. She leverages body-based investigation, science, and technology to create art that examines material and ethereal aspects of life. As an artist and designer, Karle is also a provocateur and a futurist, opening future visions of how technology could be utilized to support and enhance humanity while making advancements in the technology towards those goals in the process.

Karle has shown her work in 54 international exhibitions, including in 2019: at Centre Pompidou, Paris; in 2018 at Beijing Media Arts Biennale; Ars Electronica in Tokyo and Beijing; Centrum Nauki Kopernik in Warsaw and the Stanford National Accelerator Laboratory in California, USA. She is regularly invited to share her innovations and insights as an expert speaker at prestigious events and think tanks worldwide including 3DHeals, the Salzburg Global Seminar, Innovative City Forum, X-Summit, and Future Innovators Summit.

Karle is Co-Founder of Conceptual Art Technologies, has developed registered patents and marks in the medical field, was Artist in Residence at Autodesk, has been named one of the “Most Influential Women in 3D Printing” (All3DP 2016, 2017) and was Grand Prize Winner of the “YouFab Global Creative Award” (2018). As an Artist Diplomat through the U.S. Department of State American Arts Incubator (2017-18), Karle was tasked with public diplomacy, social innovation, and women’s empowerment in STEAM. The long-term goals of her work are to continue to pioneer in the bioart field and make contributions to society, technology, and healthcare in the process. 

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