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Forget impressionism, this artist is growing a real skeletal human hand in a lab

In a jaw-dropping blend of art and science, new-media artist Amy Karle is growing a skeletal human hand in a lab.

Karle first scanned the bones of a female hand to create a digital model, then 3D printed a biodegradable scaffold using medical CAD and human stem cells. Over the next two years, the scaffold will disintegrate, and the hope is that the stem cells will grow into tissue and mineralize into bone.

“I create artwork about the body,” Karle told Digital Trends. “I work across a lot of different platforms, but the body is the consistent theme. I’m curious about what it means to be human. When I was pregnant, I kept thinking about how two cells come together and make all of these exquisite formations, all of these different kinds of bones. I was fascinated by it.”

Having grown up in a scientific family and studied genetic engineering in culture, Karle represents a growing number of artists who are blurring the line between art and science. “I’ve always had a flirtation with science,” she continued. “Both my parents are chemists and biochemists. I was essentially raised in a research lab, so it’s an atmosphere I’m very comfortable working in — although I identify as an artist.”

Her latest piece of work has received plenty of attention — and serves as a great calling card not just for Karle and the bionanoscientist and material scientists she worked with, but also this particular area of bioscience as a whole.

“As an artist, you’re a provocateur but also a storyteller,” Karle said. “In this scenario, I’m showing the intelligence of how stem cells work, as well as exploring these 3D-printed scaffolds that are becoming increasingly popular — either outside the body, or even inside it to encourage tissue growth. As an artist, I can show this work in an interesting way, and take it outside the lab to share with a much larger audience.”

Going forward, Karle has plenty more ideas for other cell-related projects. She told Digital Trends that she is on the lookout for more researchers to collaborate with. In the name of science, Karle has also shared step-by-step open source instructions for those who want to experiment with 3D-printed scaffolds for cell culture.

“I felt that sharing our work would help others who want to take this research into the scientific realm,” she concluded.

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