Within the world of 3D printing, by far the most exciting developments to look forward to are those involving 3D printing of human body parts (more accurately known as 3D bioprinting). Even after reading about this for a few years now and watching many videos on the subject, it still seems like science fiction to me. However, this is definitely not fiction, and the basic technology has already existed and been used in people for over a decade. Dr. Anthony Atala (a pioneer in this field who I have mentioned a few times on this blog before) has two extremely popular TED Talk videos on this subject from 2010 and 2011 that you can view if you scroll to the bottom of this page. Dr. Atala’s work was also well covered in this article from just a few months ago.
Much of the work entailing 3D printing of organs thus far involves a combination of printing cells plus biomaterials. When it comes to 3D printing of hair follicles, all the work thus far seems to focus on the use of synthetic materials rather than actual cells, although I am not certain about this biology behind this. We are still not close to being able to implant such 3D printed hair into the scalp as far as I can tell. Nevertheless, this subject is still fascinating. Here is a video from last last year on this subject along with this article that I posted on this blog before. In the past several months, two news items on 3D printed hair caught my eye.
MIT Media Group’s Cillia: 3D Printed Hair
The first of these was not widely covered, but since it involves researchers from MIT, I give it precedence. These scientists are part of the MIT Tangible Media Group, led by Dr. Hiroshi Ishii, and their project is called Cillia. Note that they do not discuss the human scalp whatsoever, and they are using bitmap technology to print this hair rather than any kind of actual cells. For the scientists among you, Dr. Ishii and his team’s paper on this subject is probably extremely interesting. I only glanced through it due to time constraints.
The futurism website has a much more detailed article on the subject, although I laughed when I read this quote:
“While there are a number of potential aesthetic purposes, customized paint brushes or strong adhesive surfaces might be at the top of people’s lists on what 3D printed hair could be used for.”
I would guess the exact opposite. The aesthetic purposes will be far more important from a commercial perspective. Or maybe I am just underestimating the market for paint brushes and adhesive surfaces?
Italian company Cesare Ragazzi Laboratories has received tremendous publicity over the past several months, even thought its technology was already shown in a 2014 video on the company’s youtube channel:
Perhaps they have since improved upon their methodology even further? In any case, here is a NY Daily News article from March where I first read about the company. Their work was even covered on 3dprint.com earlier this year. The company’s technology is essentially an attempt at making a much better wig/hairpiece/hair system/toupee than anything that is in existence today, with far less expensive and less frequent maintenance requirements, plus a better individualized fit (scalp mapping). The technology is based on CNC systems that are being sold around the world by Cesare Ragazzi.