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International Symposium on the ethics of 3D bioprinting

International Symposium on the ethics of 3D bioprinting

Twenty five distinguished doctors, scientists, ethicists, and policy analysts participated in a cutting edge research workshop, held from 24 to 26 May 2016 at Brocher Foundation, Geneva, to discuss for the first time the developments and the ethical challenges of 3D bioprinting. Among them Prof. Vincent Müller and Dr. Alexandre Erler of the American College of Thessaloniki (ACT) who delivered a lecture under the title “Human body in the age of mechanical reproduction: Some ethical concerns of 3D bioprinting”.

3D bioprinting is a developing technology relying, as its name indicates, on the principles of 3D printing (also known as ‘additive manufacturing’). It involves the ability to build bones and various kinds of human tissue, and might ultimately give us the ability to build whole organs, layer by layer, in a digitally controlled manner, using cells as raw material. Despite initial successes and high medical hopes for 3D bioprinting, it is not free of ethical challenges.

Prof. Vincent Müller (www.sophia.de), Professor of Philosophy at ACT, and Dr. Alexandre Erler, Research Fellow at ACT, discussed the potential of these technologies for enhancing humans, e.g. making them stronger, more intelligent, less susceptible to disease or more beautiful. On the other hand, the technologies can be used for medical therapy, e.g. in producing organs that cannot be found from human donors, in replacing damaged body parts such as heart valves or arteries, for drug-testing on artificial tissue rather than animals. The arising question is if there is a plausible borderline between use for ‘enhancement’ and use for ‘therapy’.

The digital Do-It-Yourself (DiDIY) revolution allows individuals, enthusiastic ‘Makers’, creative designers and educators to make a virtually endless variety of things, often from their home: from mobile phones, spare parts, clothing, artwork, or prosthetic limbs, to guns or biological weapons. The research team of Prof. Vincent C. Müller and Dr. Alexandre Erler at ACT is writing on characteristic cases of ethical issues of DiDIY, such as gun control (handguns & drones), human organ printing, synthetic biology and biohacking, employment and customisation as well as education. Their work is part of the European H2020 project "Digital DIY" (www.didiy.eu) which brings together 7 European institutions, from design to business, to research for 30 months with an overall budget of 2,1mil€.

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