WEST POINT, N.Y. — When Lt. Col. Jason Barnhill traveled to Africa last summer, he took with him not only the normal gear of an Army officer, but also a 3D printer.
Barnhill, who is the life science program director at the U.S. Military Academy, traveled to Africa to study how 3D printers could be used for field medical care. Barnhill’s printer was not set up to print objects made out of plastics as the printers are frequently known for. Instead, his printer makes bioprinted items that could one day be used to save Soldiers injured in combat.
The 3D bioprinting research has not reached the point where a printed organ or meniscus can be implanted into the body, but Barnhill and a team of cadets are working to advance the research in the field.
Twenty-six firsties are doing bioprinting research across seven different projects as their capstone this year. Two teams are working on biobandages for burn and field care. Two teams are working on how to bioengineer blood vessels to enable other bioprinted items that require a blood source, such as organs, to be viable. One team is working on printing a viable meniscus and the final team is working on printing a liver.
The basic process of printing biomaterial is the same as what is used to print a plastic figurine. A model of what will be printed is created on the computer, it is digitally sliced into layers and then the printer builds it layer by layer. The difference is the “ink” that is used.