By Grace Kim
Approximately 21 people die a day from waiting for organs, and about 4,000 people are added to the national waiting list every month. The demand for organs is dramatically increasing, but the supply is increasingly diminishing.
A lab at Wake Forest Institute of Regenerative Imaging in North Carolina offers a potential solution: Bioprinting. Bioprinting operates similarly to 3-D printing but the result of bioprinting is the opportunity to produce a living object rather than plastic or wax objects. The bioprinting machine has one syringe that operates by forming the skeleton of a printed human organ or body part while the other syringes are filled with a solution containing human cells or proteins to promote the growth of the printed organ.
The idea is that when the skeleton of the human organ or body part is being printed, the cells of the intended patient are included into the skeleton. The human organ or body part would then be incubated, the cells would multiply, and the printed object can be implanted onto, or into, the patient.
Researchers of the Wake Forest Institute of Regenerative Imaging have not only been able to successfully print skin, ears, bones, and muscle, but they have also been able to successfully implant the printed body parts on laboratory animals.
Bioprinting is projected to double in the next coming years with the hope that eventually, your doctor will have easy access to printed organs, and the wait time for an organ goes from years to weeks. Anthony Atala, the director of Wake Forest, describes the idea as the following: “You’d have companies that exist to process cells, create constructs, tissue. Your surgeon might take a CT scan and a tissue sample and ship it to that company. A week or so later, an organ would arrive in a sterile container via FedEx, ready for implantation.”
Realistically, however, we are far from producing functioning human organs from technology. The stepping-stones have been laid out, and it is a good start in the right direction. As the field grows, we will need to prepare for new, questionable consequences of such technological advances, and we will need to start questioning the ethics of the process. However, ultimately, if the technology can be developed, it will be a breakthrough in the field of transplantation with the hope that maybe the number of people who die waiting for an organ can be reduced to none.
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