Apr 18, 2016 | By Alec

Just a few years ago, the very idea of 3D printed organs or bones was completely confined to the realm of science fiction. But experts are now predicting that patients could have access to 3D bioprinted tissue within the next decade, which is creating a lot of buzz and even raises ethical questions. Should we only replace existing tissue, or can we improve ourselves? If we can create functional organs, why not just build a whole new lifeform? In an attempt to make us think about such issues, Dutch visual artist Floris Kaayk recently shared his The Modular Body project. Consisting of 56 fictional clips detailing the creation of a 3D printed and blood-sucking organism called Oscar, the artistic project raises certain questions about the implications of 3D bioprinting.

The Modular Body is quite a shocking project, as it tells the (fortunately fictional) story of Oscar, a misshapen creature created by scientist Cornelis Vlasman using 3D bioprinting technologies. The video below, one of the 56 clips, presents a crowdfunding campaign for the scientific research that has led to Oscar, which claims that a team of Dutch scientists are using 3D bioprinting to effectively replace or provide an alternative to organic birthing. What’s more, this new bioprinting technique, which conceives of the human body as an "open system" rather than a "closed system," can supposedly improve the composition of the human body and even develop a completely new one. “If we can create it in the lab, we can improve it from scratch,” they say. “A new body, which is more efficient, immortal and adaptable.” With your help, they add, a hand-sized living prototype called Oscar could be realized.

If you were as intrigued as we were, you might have followed the rabbit hole down to The Modular Body website, a chaotic and visually impressive interface featuring 56 interconnected videos that delves further into The Oscar Project.  The website, strategically, would not look out of place in a Sci-Fi film as the visitor is confronted with a barrage of clips of realistic looking biological and synthetic experiments, backed by a very ominous soundtrack. In one video, a skinless lung module is seen breathing, and in another a synthetic heart is shown beating. To not overwhelm viewers too much, the website was designed to operate on an algorithm that, while letting users click on whichever video icon they like, also suggests the next video to watch, keeping some sort of cohesiveness to the whole sci-fi nightmare narrative.

There is no denying that the project is eery: Oscar is a modern-day Frankenstein monster that is closely relying on the care of its maker. The real terror of the creature becomes apparent in another of the seemingly real video clips, this one of a round table discussion of scientists, who share some creepy details about the additively manufactured being. “He really needs fresh blood daily, and it’s very important that [Oscar] is free of pathogens,” one female scientist said. “Is he preferring frozen or fresh blood? I think that if you could speak of being happy, he needs his supplies. Whether or not its fresh or frozen,” another scientist added.

The implication is clear: the next stage in human development has been reached, and it will affect all of us. “This is a worldwide event—the entire mankind basically has to relate to Oscar,” another scientist said. “Because this is apparently what we can do with 21st century bioengineering…Oscar challenges the divide between the natural and the artificial.” Some other videos included in the project have even called modern definitions of lifeforms into question. In one, a fictional vlogger argues for a redefinition of life as more open and modular. “This [3D printed Oscar] the division between man and machine is slowly thinning. This living creature provides insight into opportunities for the human body,” she explains.

But rest assured, it is all fictional. As Kaayk later revealed to The Creators Project, it is simply a thought-provoking visual arts project that encourages the viewer to think more carefully about scientific development. Wanting to create a fictional story about custom-made lifeforms, he was especially intrigued by the sensational press that sometimes covers the development of 3D printed organs. “Usually the headlines of those kind of articles present it as if it's already possible to create operational organs with currently available technology,” Kaayk explained. “If you start to read further, you'll discover that this field of research is still in a very early stage. It's not possible yet to print functioning, vascularized organs—maybe in 30-40 years, but right now it's science fiction.”

But like the rest of us, he dared to dream. “If we can print organs and body parts, why not completely redefine and redesign the human body? That's when I started approaching the current human body as a closed system. Difficult to repair or adapt, maybe even obsolete. An open, modular system could become immortal, and adaptable,” he recalls. He therefore decided to develop a story shows us the first of these lab-born lifeforms.

To make this whole concept as realistic as possible, Kaayk decided to set up a multi-layered platform that counts on the imagination and analytic ability of the viewer. “Together with LUSTlab I ended up with an algorithm that connects the fragments in a logical order—every video has it's own story tags,” Kaayk explains. “As soon as you watch a video, video's with matching story tags pop up next to it  like recommendations or suggestions from the algorithm. While finding your way through this story, your own story path evolves.”

Through this interactive platform, you are thus effectively creating your own Sci-Fi story, which you can share through social media. The ominous interface is simply a glue that holds the complete story together, and satirizes technologists as much as it invites you to think about where science is taking us. And while the Oscar Project is a truly remarkable and thought-provoking multimedia platform that is very entertaining, somewhere in the back of your mind, you will also be hoping that Oscar never truly sees the light of day.



Posted in 3D Printing Application



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Jake wrote at 4/20/2016 5:46:20 AM:


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