. As part of a talk at Pennsylvania Bio’s Life Sciences Future conference this week, Penn State Hershey Medical Center surgeon Randy Haluck offset the excitement around the hey, presto ease of 3D printing organs with the complexities involved with fitting these devices into bodies.

Haluk pointed out that in some ways the technology associated with 3D printing — rapid prototyping — isn’t new. But the customization that 3D printing enables at a relatively low cost. It’s having the biggest impact in orthopedics with the FDA approval of Oxford Performance Materials’ OsteoFab Patient-Specific Cranial Device. It’s also led to the production of disposable surgical jigs that function as plastic cutting guides to direct surgeon’s incisions.

But bioprinting such as 3D printing for organs and tissue, not so easy, as Haluk pointed out. “Without being too critical, I would suggest that [3D printed organs] look more like the organs they’re representing rather than function like them.”

One of the biggest hurdles with developing 3D printed organs is that all cells need to be about 200 microns from a blood vessel, Haluck said. Life science innovations are getting closer, but aren’t there yet. It’s not just about the proximity to blood vessels, it’s about the chemical environment too. “Organs need to exist in very precise chemically…. balanced environment and when anything in that space is disturbed, they can die,” he said. “It’s about getting a lot of puzzle pieces in the right order.”

The correct CAD software will make the process easier and easier.