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3D bioprint me: a socioethical view of bioprinting human organs and tissues
  1. Niki Vermeulen1,
  2. Gill Haddow1,
  3. Tirion Seymour1,
  4. Alan Faulkner-Jones2,
  5. Wenmiao Shu2
  1. 1 Department of Science, Technology and Innovation Studies, University of Edinburgh, Edinburgh, UK
  2. 2 Department of Biomedical Engineering, University of Strathclyde, Glasgow, UK
  1. Correspondence to Dr Niki Vermeulen, Department of Science, Technology and Innovation Studies, University of Edinburgh, Old Surgeons' Hall, High School Yards, Edinburgh EH1 1LZ, UK; niki.vermeulen{at}


In this article, we review the extant social science and ethical literature on three-dimensional (3D) bioprinting. 3D bioprinting has the potential to be a ‘game-changer’, printing human organs on demand, no longer necessitating the need for living or deceased human donation or animal transplantation. Although the technology is not yet at the level required to bioprint an entire organ, 3D bioprinting may have a variety of other mid-term and short-term benefits that also have positive ethical consequences, for example, creating alternatives to animal testing, filling a therapeutic need for minors and avoiding species boundary crossing. Despite a lack of current socioethical engagement with the consequences of the technology, we outline what we see as some preliminary practical, ethical and regulatory issues that need tackling. These relate to managing public expectations and the continuing reliance on technoscientific solutions to diseases that affect high-income countries. Avoiding prescribing a course of action for the way forward in terms of research agendas, we do briefly outline one possible ethical framework ‘Responsible Research Innovation’ as an oversight model should 3D bioprinting promises are ever realised. 3D bioprinting has a lot to offer in the course of time should it move beyond a conceptual therapy, but is an area that requires ethical oversight and regulation and debate, in the here and now. The purpose of this article is to begin that discussion.

  • Animal Experimentation
  • Donation/Procurement of Organs/Tissues
  • Engineering
  • Stem Cell Research
  • Applied and Professional Ethics

This is an Open Access article distributed in accordance with the terms of the Creative Commons Attribution (CC BY 4.0) license, which permits others to distribute, remix, adapt and build upon this work, for commercial use, provided the original work is properly cited. See:

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  • Twitter Follow: Niki Vermeulen @nikivermeulen and Gill Haddow @gillhaddow

  • Contributors The people listed as authors have contributed to this article through collective discussion and outlining of the topic of the paper taking on board both a scientific and a social scientific/ethical perspective. Within this process, NV and GH have framed and written the main part of the paper, while TS has conducted the literature search. AF-J and WS have provided the scientific input as well as references and updates. Everybody has contributed to subsequent revisions of the draft paper.

  • Funding Wellcome Trust (095820/B/11/Z), (100561/Z/12/Z) and EPSRC (EP/M506837/1).

  • Competing interests None declared.

  • Provenance and peer review Not commissioned; externally peer reviewed.

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