Instead of patients receiving needed organs through transplants, could manufactured ones solve the organ shortage problem?
According to the United Network for Organ Donation, there are 92,679 people on the kidney transplant waiting list, but due to a limited organ donor supply, an estimated 4,500 people on the list will die this year waiting for a viable organ.
What if, instead of waiting for a kidney, doctors could print one on-demand for patients? It’s a possibility that Surgeon Anthony Atala is exploring:
[Our lab uses] a desktop inkjet printer, but instead of using ink, we’re using cells.
Together with his team at Wake Forest’s Institute for Regenerative Medicine, Atala uses a CT scanner to create a 3D image of the organ that needs to be replaced. This computer model is then used as the basis for construction; using a small tissue sample from the patient to seed the printer, a new, working, and viable organ is built layer by layer. Right now, the printing process takes about 7 hours.
Although the printed kidneys are years away from functional use, Atala has used the technology to create a working bladder; Luke Masella received a bladder manufactured by Atala 10 years ago. Atala envisions a future in which scanners and printers can be used to treat wounds (printing tissue directly onto patients!) and to manufacture organs, helping to solve the organ-donation shortage by creating organs on-demand.
Watch a kidney prototype being printed below: