Future Tense

Harvard Researchers Print Body Parts That Function Like the Real Thing

If you thought 3-D printing was just for fun—for making, say, a Batsuitthis video shows how researchers at Harvard’s Wyss institute have figured out a way to use it for something truly amazing: building human body parts out of living human cells. They’re bio-printing functioning kidney proximal tubules for eventual implantation in patients with kidney disease.

The process has several steps, the first of which is 3-D printing a proximal-tubule shape using “inks” similar to gels. And these tubules are tiny: There are proximal tubules inside each of the million-plus nephrons within a human kidney. Researchers then remove one layer of the ink, insert cells, and wait for tissue to form.

In the short term, these parts could be used outside the body to aid patients with renal failure. But because they function remarkably like living kidney parts, they have potential to be a key development in the long-running race to create artificial kidneys.