Daily Archives: February 16, 2016

Printers Saves Lives: One Structure at a Time.

3D heart

3d printed heart model

TaVon Cates

Did you know that on average, 21 people die every day waiting on an organ transplant? According to the American Transplant Foundation, there is more than 123,000 people in the United States currently waiting on an organ transplant to save their lives and someone is added to that list every 12 minutes!

The American Transplant Foundation also says that over 6,500 people die every year waiting on the organ transplant. Many people are organ donors, but a lot of their organs are not donated until after they are dead. Now with the average life expectancy at almost 80 years, help comes either too late or not at all for many people.

The increasing in technology in the modern age may have a solution for this. A technique that has been around for quite some time and the uses are ever changing, 3-Dimensional printing.

Burger and fries

Here we see a 3D Printed Burger and Fries.

3D printing is a technique in which objects are constructed from digital data. It almost like a regular printer, except it prints in layers and takes a little longer than an average printer. Many scientists are taking this technique into the medical field.

With the help of 3D printing, 3D printed organs have become a reality. However, because this technology is relatively new in the field, there are still a few kinks being worked out.

3D printing has been especially helpful for cardiologists, especially those dealing with congenital heart disease. 3D printing has helped to produce accurately printed, realistic, 3D hearts. These 3D models can help increase procedural efficiency because cardiologist would be able to have a model of the patients’ heart to examine and “operate” on before the actual procedure takes place. This procedure will also increase patient safety because the doctors would have already done the procedure before.

One instance of this procedure being used would be the case of four month old Lucy. She suffered from heart failure, which starved her Kidney’s. Her father offered to donate his Kidney so she wouldn’t have to be on dialysis for the rest of her life.


The top left is Lucys’ father Kidney with actual living cells.

Doctors made a 3D model of both Lucy’s abdomen as well as her fathers’ kidney. With these, they made it clear to Lucy’s parents how such a large kidney would fit into such a small child. After doing the procedure on the 3D models, they were able to successfully transplant the Kidney into Lucy and change her life.

Another one of these life changing operations was done on four year old Mia. Her early childhood was filled would numerous bouts of colds, pneumonia, shortness of breath, etc. She wasn’t able to do many of the things that she loved such as dance. It was dismissed as asthma and she was prescribed asthma medications.

It took nearly 10 hospital stays for doctors to realize that the cause was much worse. They found that her aorta, the vessel that carries blood from the heart, and was pushing against the windpipe, which caused the shortness of breath and made it hard to swallow.

They were able to save her life because the hospital had recently gotten a 3D printer that makes EXACT replicas of organs. They saw the malformed aorta in the model and was able to ponder how they would fix the problem and do practice operations without actually harming the four year old.

Dr. Burke, the leading doctor, said that without the 3D replica, he would not have been as confident operating on Mia. He says that without the replica, the healing time as well as the pain and the experience for Mia would have been much worse.

One case study on the topic would be the Russian 3D printing company, 3D bioprinting solutions. The company has made an amazing advancement in 3D printing organs for transplants. In March of 2015, the company reported having made a working 3D model of a thyroid gland of a mouse. The replicated thyroid gland was able to carry out all of the functions that a regular thyroid gland would.

In November of 2015, the same company proudly announced that they had successfully transplanted the working thyroid gland into a live mouse and the mouse lived with no complications from the organ or the procedure.

This is a big accomplishment because regular thyroid transplants are not normally done because of all the complications that could come from the surgery such as infection. 3D organs are ideal for transplants because they are made up of the organism’s cells, therefore it has a much lower chance of being rejected by the body.

Organs are not the only thing that is able to be implanted thanks to 3D printing. Two men who suffered from cancer lives’ were changed thanks to 3D printing. One needed a sternum (chest plate) as well as a rib cage. Doctors were able to create a sternum and rib cage that exactly matched his anatomy through 3D printing. The second man lost half of his pelvis to cancer and was able to get a replica transplanted to complete the other half.


The 3D printed medal rib cage and sternum before and after transplanted into the patient.

21 people die every day because they cannot get the transplant they need to save their life. You have read about numerous people whose lives have been saved and changed thanks to 3D printing. The technology is still relatively new, so as it progresses and advances, tens of people will not lose their lives every day waiting on an organ or bone structure.

Why Dark Chocolate?


       Photo by Steve Miller on February 1, 2015

Ashton Harris

Love is in the air.

With Valentines Day quickly approaching, I find myself surrounded by an abundance of red roses, cheesy greeting cards, and ginormous teddy bears (honestly, who buys those anyways?) But probably the most characteristic component of Valentine’s Day is the isles upon isles of chocolate in your local grocery store.

While walking through one of the multiple isles solely composed of chocolate, I find myself going through the same thought process every year.

“Is this chocolate going to make me gain weight?”

“Is chocolate really THAT bad for you?”

“Check the nutrition facts. How many calories are even in this?”

This overanalyzation of nutrition facts during a universal holiday can be related to today’s fascination with health and wellness. Think about it, how many people do you know that own a personal fitness device? How many constantly check to see the number of steps they have reached or how many stairs they have climbed?

Sure, one could argue that this may have to do with an interest in technological advancements, but if that is true, wouldn’t nearly everyone own a hoverboard?

Here’s the thing, unlike the hoverboard craze, nutrition does not “attach” itself to any age group. Instead, nutrition is universal. You could see a sixteen year old and a seventy-year-old American citizen both wearing the same FitBit, performing the same function. With this in mind, if any food, especially if it is as satisfying as dark chocolate, is claimed as “healthy,” chances are everyone will be talking about this sooner than later. And in fact, that has been the case with dark chocolate.

The health benefits of dark chocolate are all rooted in a high concentration of cacao in comparison to other forms of chocolate. In lay mans terms, the higher the percentage of cacao, the more natural the chocolate.

Cacao originates from the cacao fruit tree, also know as the Theobroma Cacao. This certain tree produces cacao pods. When these pods are split open, hundreds of cacao beans pour out. Overall, the cacao beans are at the root of every dark chocolate recipe. Whether the beans are turned into a paste or a powder, the taste and texture of these products will resemble dark chocolate.


     Cacao pods on Theobroma Cacao; Minipedia

On the other hand, when milk chocolate is made, cacao is manipulated structurally and chemically in order to create a higher percentage of cocoa, which is probably the more familiar form of chocolate. When cocoa is made, cacao undergoes a heating process, which breaks the bonds within the substance in order to alter the shape to produce cocoa.

Milk chocolate, the most popular form of chocolate, is not only heated but also processed with an alkalized solution in order to change the overall taste; the chocolate becomes much less acidic and much richer in taste.

Overall, if you are really craving dark chocolate, the only place you need to look is on the branches of a Theobroma Cacao tree. But you might have to wait a few hours for you milk chocolate to be heated and alkalized. Sounds delicious, right?

So is it true that the more natural the chocolate, the “healthier” it is?

The main factor that would explain this statement is the presence of flavonoids and antioxidants in dark chocolate; the high cocoa content in dark chocolate results in high levels of flavonoids and antioxidants.

Flavonoids function to reduce platelet activation and create a cardiovascular mechanism called the French Paradox, which means that a population has a low rate of cardiorespiratory complications with a high sugar diet.

On the other hand, antioxidants slow down or prevent the oxidation of other molecules within the body. When molecules in the body oxidize, they create cellular by-products, called free radicals, which are highly unstable. In order to gain stability, free radicals attack healthy cells. This then causes healthy, or normal, cells to act in a very similar way by attacking others in an attempt to gain stability.

Overall, both flavonoids and antioxidants should lead to an improved and efficient physiological system in the human body.

In regards to flavonoid function, the Association of Operating Room Nurses performed a study in 2003 to prove the assumption that the flavonoids in dark chocolate result in improved vascular function. In this experiment, participants’ blood was tested before and after consumption of a variety of chocolate, including white, dark, and milk chocolate. The results of the study evidenced that white chocolate did not reduce platelet activity while milk chocolate slightly reduced platelet activity, but did not reduce platelet production. On the other hand, after the consumption of dark chocolate, the participants’ blood showed reduced platelet production and activity.

In summary, white and milk chocolate artificially produce platelets, which can lead to unnecessary blood clots, such as those in the arteries of the heart. However, since dark chocolate limits platelet production, the formation of unnecessary blood clots is greatly reduced, therefore improving the cardiovascular system.

On the other hand, Louisiana State University professor, John Finely, performed an experiment in 2014 to demonstrate the idea that the presence of antioxidants in dark chocolate benefits the physiology of the human body. In this experiment, his students recreated an artificial human digestive system in order to visually observe the effects of cacao.

The human digestive system contains a variety of micro-bacteria that aid in digestion by breaking down food particles. When food is broken down, energy is created so that the body may perform certain processes that require energy.

Initially, Finely explains that the micro-bacteria in our digestive tract ferments the antioxidants in cacao, therefore allowing the bacteria to properly create energy, without the interference of free radicals. Before conducting this experiment, Finely was aware that the composition of bacteria varies in each individuals’ digestive tract, so some results could be more beneficial than others.

After observing the effects of cacao on the digestive system, Finley noticed that the digestive tracts exposed to cacao expressed an increase in insulin sensitivity.

In regards to a background on insulin, this hormone is used to signal liver cells to absorb sugars, such as glucose, in order to decrease blood sugar levels. When one is diabetic, he or she has trouble producing insulin, so blood sugar levels are relatively high.


   Diagram explaining how insulin stimulates cells to intake  sugar; Pearson Biology

But what does “insulin sensitivity” mean?

Insulin sensitivity has to do with how well a body responds to insulin. Those that are highly insulin sensitive require very little insulin to store sugar. On the other hand, those that have low insulin sensitivity, typically diabetics, require greater amounts of insulin for cells to intake certain sugars.

Finley’s observations portrayed the relationship between high insulin sensitivity and cacao, which means that the ingestion of cacao could then result in a delay or prevention of being diagnosed with diabetes. Overall, the ability of cells to readily absorb sugar can be related to the high levels of antioxidants in cacao, which reduce the presence of free radicals.

However, though dark chocolate proves to benefit the physiology of the human body, it is important to enforce proper portion control.

For instance, too many flavonoids could result in a complete absence of platelets. This means that when your body requires the formation of blood clots, such as a scab on a small cut, the platelets will not be available to the affected area.

On the other hand, too many antioxidants can result in the disappearance of free radical cells. At first, this may seem to be a good quality for the body to possess. However, free radicals force the body’s immune system to adjust to and fight against these foreign invaders; this can therefore speed up the immune system response the next time it is introduced to a certain free radical cell.

In conclusion, when you are at Walmart on Valentine’s Day, go for it! Splurge and buy some dark chocolate, now knowing the benefits that tag along!

But always remember, too much of a good thing CAN be bad for you.