3-D Printing Organs
By Saanvi Aneja
If you’re interested in pursuing a career in the medical field, you're bound to encounter 3-D printing at some point in your life.
The process of 3-D printing has become immensely popular over the past few years, as scientists and medical professionals are now using 3-D printing for numerous tasks. From creating dental implants and prosthetics to making models that surgeons and medical students can practice on, 3-D printing has become a useful part of the medical field, and has contributed to saving countless lives . However, many researchers and scientists have decided to take the 3-D printing process to the next level.
Imagine a scenario where you are in need of a new heart. As of now, you would have to wait months, maybe even years, to receive a new heart due to thousands of people being on the transplant waiting list as well. Not only would it be a challenge to find an available donor, but other factors such as medical urgency, time spent on the waiting list, organ size, blood type, genetic makeup, etc. would also play a significant role when this decision is being made. Because of this, eight thousand people die each year waiting for an organ transplant that could’ve saved their lives .
But 3-D printing has the ability to change this.
What if medical professionals could simply print a fully functional organ on the spot, the moment one of their patients needed it? Surely, this is a long shot. It may take decades to achieve this. But the first steps to attain this long-term goal are already being taken.
A team of bioengineers at the Wake Forest Institute for Regenerative Medicine, led by Anthony Atla, is growing viable tissue and organs for patients . They’re using an innovative 3-D printer, called the Integrated Tissue and Organ Printing System (ITOP), to do this. The basic idea is that this printer uses cells as an “ink”, while injection nozzles follow a CT scan blueprint to create the body part. Although thick organs seem to remain a challenge, it is estimated that artificial skin with blood vessels, along with a small number of 3-D printed organs, can be ready for clinical testing within a year or two .
A large number of researchers from the RIKEN Centre for Developmental Biology in Japan have also been working towards a similar goa l. Lead Scientist Dr. Takashi Tsuji explains, “Up until now, artificial skin development has been hampered by the fact that the skin lacked the important organs, such as hair follicles and exocrine glands, which allow the skin to play its important role in regulation. With this new technique, we have successfully grown skin that replicates the function of normal tissue”(Takagi). Tsuji reveals that the idea of transplantable organs is closer now more than ever. He also believes that their method could be used as a competent alternative for animal testing chemicals .
Likewise, researchers at Cornell University are using cells from cows in order to grow cartilage . Cartilage is a smooth, elastic tissue that covers and protects the ends of long bones and joints, such as ears, the rib cage, and the nose. In this case, researchers use the cartilage grown from cows to mold it into an ear shape. Then, they transplant it into patients who have lost their ears due to cancer or accidents. Although these ears have only been tested on lab animals, the researchers are hoping for more victories in the lab in order to progress to the next step .
It is quite evident that many different groups of researchers are all working towards a similar goal of implementing 3-D printing to print functional organs and tissues. With all the new advancements in technology and science, we can hope that the idea of 3-D printing organs becomes a new reality in the future ─ and can save more lives.
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