Home / Blog / Disruptive Technologies beyond 2030 for the Smart Planet III

Disruptive Technologies beyond 2030 for the Smart Planet III

3D printing of food and pharmaceuticals

The XYZ da Vinci scans, edits and prints 3D objects. Credit: da Vinci

3D printers will keep evolving extending their range of application. Once of interest to big companies for rapid prototyping are now (slowly) becoming a mass market device with prices below 1,000$ and easy to use interface. A whole new market of product design resulting in ready to print instruction is growing. Some 3D printers incorporate a 3D laser scanner for easy duplication: got a broken tap sealing gasket? Scan it and have the 3D printer print a new one on the spot!

Food printers, like Foodini, have already appeared on the market, bakeries are using them for cake decoration. A few restaurants have also started to use 3D printers for preparing food (see clip). However this is being used more as a way to attract customers to see something new, rather than as a real alternative way of preparing food.

Artificially manufactured hamburger have appeared in 2013, but their cost was prohibitive (the first hamburger cost tens of thousands of $). Now it seems they are getting ready for restaurants in 2018 with the mass market expected sale beginning in 2021 . They are not going to be cheaper than the real ones (the expected price per hamburger is around 11$) but are supposedly safer, leaner and much more environment friendly. Today artificial meat (producers are calling it “clean” meat) is grown in containers but bey 2030 we might expect the meat treated as “ink” and 3D printed on demand in the shape and with the texture desired.

Pharma is also going to take advantage of 3D printers to manufacture customised drugs, first at the drugstore and eventually in each home. For the latter we will have to wait the fourth decade of this century, considering that the hurdles are not (just) about technology but also about proper use of the 3D printer in a not controlled environment with no training of the person operating the machine.

Human organ printing

Bioprinting a human ear for transplant. The bio ink uses cultivated patient cells to ensure histocompatibility. Credit: CollPlant, Israel

3D printers are finding an important application space in the bioprinting of tissues. Skin printing has become a normal procedure to heal burnt tissue. Bone printing and transplant has already taken place, like windpipe (trachea) printing. Labs are experimenting on bio-printing of more complex organs, like bladder and heart valve.

Several companies, like Organovo,  RegenHU and Seraph Robotics, are at work addressing the various aspects involved in printing human organs, from bio-inks (each one containing the right type of cells) to scaffolding to support the cells in the first phase when the 3D structure is formed, to creating blood vessels.

There are clearly difficult technical issues to solve but there are also critical ethical questions to address.
We can expect a continuous evolution with partial progress on the way as more and more organs become feasible and by 2030 we might reach the point where many transplant needs may be met with 3D printed organs, solving the donor problem.

Artificial human blood substitute

Artificial blood hemoglobin-albumin cluster: (A) Micrograph of Atomic force microscope, (B) Electron micrograph, (C) Actual three-dimensional structure, (D) Glass bottle filled with red HemoAct™ preparation. Credit: Teruyuki Komatsu

A few companies, like HBO2,  are already offering hemoglobin substitute, sort of artificial blood to carry oxygen to cells. These are not really replacement of our blood since they serve just one (although important) function. In the next two decades we can expect the creation of blood replacements covering more and more blood functionalities.

Of course we will be discussing the ethical limits of these replacements. Already today, artificially augmenting the oxygen transport capability of hemoglobin (by increasing red blood cells) is seen as cheating in sports, since it provides an unfair advantage (and it carries some dangerous side effect to your health!). What about substances that can increase, augment, our capabilities?

Clearly, as long as these are used to recover disabilities, like loss of red blood cells, no one is going to raise ethical issues, but once they can be used to augment capabilities …

This is going to become a general ethical, legal and social issue as more and more augmentation to our functionalities will become available in the coming decades.

Notice that I listed Artificial human blood substitute under “Smart Planet”, because that is where the forecast team at Imperial College decided to place it. Personally, I would have included it under Human Augmentation….

About Roberto Saracco

Roberto Saracco fell in love with technology and its implications long time ago. His background is in math and computer science. Until April 2017 he led the EIT Digital Italian Node and then was head of the Industrial Doctoral School of EIT Digital up to September 2018. Previously, up to December 2011 he was the Director of the Telecom Italia Future Centre in Venice, looking at the interplay of technology evolution, economics and society. At the turn of the century he led a World Bank-Infodev project to stimulate entrepreneurship in Latin America. He is a senior member of IEEE where he leads the New Initiative Committee and co-chairs the Digital Reality Initiative. He is a member of the IEEE in 2050 Ad Hoc Committee. He teaches a Master course on Technology Forecasting and Market impact at the University of Trento. He has published over 100 papers in journals and magazines and 14 books.