May 25, 2016 | By Tess

New media artist Amy Karle has for years dedicated her work to exploring the relationship between the human body and technology through generative art. Her most recent project, called “Regenerative Reliquary”, continues this exploration with a special focus on how the body and human cells can live outside the body through the creation of a human hand. The project, which is currently being exhibited at Autodesk’s Pier 9 where Karle is an artist in residence, consists of an intricately designed 3D printed hand-shaped scaffold on which Karle is actually growing human cells.

As technology and the body become increasingly connected both in our daily lives and more significantly through medical research, Karle’s project is an important one. On a personal level as well, the creation of a hand using human cells has been significant for Karle, as the artist has been an active volunteer for a number of 3D printed prosthetic organizations, including Superhero Cyborgs, Kid Mob, and E-Nable, all of which inspired her to embark on her project.

Another inspiration for Regenerative Reliquary, was Karle’s genuine interest in human bone, which she explains is “the structure and foundation that supports our bodies”. While we may view bones as almost static, and even the most basic of our organs, they are actually incredibly dynamic and essential to our lives and health. As the artist explains, “As I was exploring regenerative medicine, I was studying bones, medical implant design and additive manufacturing. I have been making 3d printed artwork of many different kinds of bones, and have now turned my focus to the human hand. The most recognizable human bones are hands and skulls. We express ourselves through our hands and use our hands as tools.”

In the creation of the 3D printed hand scaffold, Karle worked with bioscientist Chris Venter, and materials scientist John Vericella to design a 3D model of a dynamic scaffold based on her own hand structure. In designing the scaffold structure, Karle had to ensure it was porous enough to allow for cell growth, and built in a way that encouraged cell attachment and growth. Importantly as well, the hand scaffold had to be made from a biocompatible and biodegradable material. The result of the design is an intricate, almost lace-like structure integrated into the human bone shapes.

The 3D printed scaffold was made from a custom mixed Polyethylene (glycol) Diacrylate (Pegda) hydrogel, a cellular growth material used in such things as petri dishes. The printing process, which took several weeks, was done on an Ember 3D printer, an open-source DLP Stereolithography printer capable of printing on a microscopic level, with a resolution of 50 microns, and a layer thickness of 10-100 microns. With a small build envelope of 64mm x 40mm x 134mm, Karle had to break her scaffold design into several parts before printing.

After printing, the 3D printed hand scaffold was placed into a bioreactor which was donated to the project by San Francisco’s Exploratorium: The Museum of Science, Art and Human Perception. The bioreactor, while providing an environment conducive to cell growth, also functions as a sort of display case for the 3D printed hand, magnifying its intricate design.

The next step in the project was to find cells to grow on the scaffold. To give added meaning to her project, Karle initially wanted to use her own cells, or cancer cells taken from a mouse. As she explains, “A major portion of this artwork that I'm creating is the cells used. I consider what does it mean for this specific piece to have human cells growing and proliferating outside of the body. My mother was a research scientist and I grew up in the lab with her. I feel inspired by her whenever I do this kind of work. She has passed away now, but I consider what would it mean if I could use her cancer cells in this piece? What if I used my own cells? Or a child's from their umbilical cord blood.”

In the end, however, because of a number of safety issues involved with using cancerous or her own cells, Karle and her team decided to use stem cells extracted from human bone marrow. In the project’s current stage, Karle is in the process of culturing the stem cells in preparation for seeding them onto the 3D printed scaffold. While it remains to be seen whether she will successfully grow cells onto her 3D printed trellis, we are anticipating exciting results—though it may take years to see any results.



Posted in 3D Printing Application



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Les Sam Monico wrote at 6/16/2016 3:56:45 AM:

This transcends science and technology. A very high intelligence at work here as well as compassion for humanity. Amazing that the artist shares concepts driving and arising from the work and how to make it - a big opportunity for science and medicine to progress in bone grafts and beyond. Powerful artwork and powerful story.... a vision for the future.

Samim wrote at 6/4/2016 7:25:27 AM:

Significant achievement to 3D print in biocompatible and biodegradable materials. #disruptiveart on so many levels.

Aspasia wrote at 6/3/2016 6:05:12 PM:

At a time where stem cell research is very important to our society's advancement, this work is very inspiring and "goes out on a limb"... venturing to a place where scientists have to go with much more caution or simply fail completely. Medical and science based startups in stem cell research have a 93% fail rate. This artist has managed to bypass that completely and share this compelling art, story and research. The more this work appears in pop culture, the more science will be motivated to continue stem cell research and make medical advancements along these lines, which could be crucial advancements to our health and society. This piece is a success far beyond a piece of incredible artwork. Bravo!

Arne wrote at 6/3/2016 5:34:05 PM:

This is the highest value artwork that I've seen in a very long time, both in the final piece and in the process to make it. A case where life inspires art and art inspires life. Let's hope that medical researchers continue to imitate this art and develop implants along these lines and that artists continue to create with living materials to advance society. Please post and link to more articles about this artist and her vision behind her work. Extremely interested to follow her.

George G wrote at 5/30/2016 12:52:36 AM:

Great work! Fantastic art in concept and execution. Beautiful that she gives back by making her research open source to offer a departure point for scientists, not just inspire art lovers. Looking forward to seeing more of her work!

Alvaro wrote at 5/26/2016 1:43:54 PM:

Amazing! Maybe it can start the research to replace missed limbs with 3D printers.

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