By Saara Akhtar

As the interest in 3D bioprinting is sky-rocketing, it seems as though the limelight has illuminated a bigger problem for the technology that may be solved by the use of “ghost organs.” 3D bioprinting uses living cells to create models of organs and tissues. These lab-grown organs could be potentially created from adult pluripotent stem cells (cells with the capacity to differentiate many different cells).Thus, there is a possibility to mass-produce organs for transplantation.However, bioprinting faces problems; we currently do not have the technology to adequately replicate the infinite number of processes that are necessary to differentiate a stem cell. However, only a general understanding of how to activate the processes is required and it seems as though a much older biotechnology can take better advantage of this fact. “Ghost organs,” or, decellularized organs are simply what is left of the organ once we take out the cells. The white extracellular matrix, or ECM, of an organ acts as the scaffolding onto which cells adhere to in order to form the organ.

In 2007. Drs. Doris Taylor and Harald Ott, in a laboratory at the University of Minnesota, found a way to preserve the basic structure of a heart to enable stem cells to naturally adhere to it and eventually grow into a fully functioning organ. Taylor and Ott were able to completely remove the cells from a rat’s heart so that all that was left was the ECM. They then placed the “ghost heart” into a bioreactor with stem cells from other lab rats and within ten days a brand new rat heart was formed. A few days later the heart was beating.

Miromatrix Medical gained a full license for the technology from the University of Minnesota in 2010 and their first ECM device (FDA approved) will start selling in September. The future of the technology seems vast and impressive; it is suspected to not only provide transplant organs but to help improve wound healing post-surgery and provide the foundations for new technologies in regenerative medicine.

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