Image: Smithsonian

Image: Smithsonian

Recently, a Pittsburg biohacker planted a chip in his arm to track his temperature and transmit the results to his phone via Bluetooth. Despite the limited use of the device, the news reignited the biohacking debate. The term is used to define the practice of using hacking attitudes and ethics to engage with biology. This trend features people without professional or medical training developing technological devices to enhance living conditions.

Experts have cautioned over this practice as they feel it could set back the potentially lifesaving technology. However, the notion that this is something taking place exclusively on basements is completely wrong. Medical experts across the world are finding new ways to enhance the living condition on a daily basis.

A printer in the OR

Artificial Liver Cells 10

Image: Dr Will Shu / Biofabrication

Earlier this year; Japanese doctors used implants made in a 3D printer. The idea of printing bone implants to replace broken or damaged skeletons could change the outlook of many conditions and change recovery and physical rehabilitation for the better.

Vanderbilt University also developed a de-facto exoskeleton for those needing rehabilitation or suffering from paralysis. It seems like something straight out of a sci-fi movie, and it’s not the only one.  Several other companies in the US and Europe and waiting for government clearance to move forward with their products. The entrance of such products could change the landscape of treatment for these conditions.

But it doesn’t end there. OrganOvo recently announced the creation of 3D slices liver which maintain the functions of the organ. The artificial tissue can filter nutrients, toxins and drugs for almost 40 days. The California startup is currently building more tissue for R&D purposes. Their ultimate goal is to build human tissues of surgical therapy and transplants.

These kinds of implants could help generations on patients suffering from amputations, cancer and other injuries to adjust easier. Imagine a critical patient with multiple life threatening fractures arriving at the ER. But instead of numerous casts or bolts an implant is placed in place of the broken bone. Such developments could reduce recovery times and limit the effect major injuries have on everyday life.


But it goes beyond treatment. Devices like this can also help prevention and everyday life. According to figures from the department of labor, American workers suffer body injuries that cost $50 billion in treatment. With this in mind, a group from the University of Pennsylvania developed a robotic exoskeleton that increases the strength of the individual. Hoping to reduce the number of injuries related to lifting and moving heavy objects, the students developed a device that boosts the individual’s strength by 40 pounds. The most surprising thing about the invention is that it costs only $2,000 to produce.

Movies tend to focus on Iron Mans and Robocops, but how far are we from digital organ transplants? We know former Vice president has a device that pumps blood for a ventricle in his heart. So perhaps the days of ordering a custom heart or liver are not too far away.