Need an organ? Just PRINT it!
Damage your liver? Don’t sweat it. All you have to do is PRINT.
Yes you read right. Printing off an organ- sounds like something you see in science-fiction movies. Apparently it is becoming a reality SOON.
Let’s go back in time for a bit and see where it all started…
Human are one creative creature! We started off with printing word documents on a piece of paper. The same printing logic is then further developed and out goes the first working 3D printer by 1984. This allows the ability to print manufacturing parts used in airplanes and electronic devices.
A sculpture being printer using 3D printer(Under Flickr Licensing)
Click to see a 3D printer in action
A few years down the track? The medicine sector has its share of success. The ability of printing prosthetic limbs, hearing aids and dental fixtures to restore loss functions became a reality.
Voila! Meet the ‘bioprinter’. Organovo, a San Diego-based company, expanded the field of regenerative medicine and launched the first bioprinter. Unlike previous 3D printers, bioprinter uses bio-ink (mixture of living cells) to form layers of cells and eventually out comes a 3D tissue.
A version of Bioprinter (source: Flickr Licensing)
Okay I lied – printing off an organ is NOT YET possible, not impossible.
Despite sounding like an easy job, it is not. Printing off a whole organ is a different story. An organ such as heart and liver has extensive blood vessels and detailed microstructure, in which the bioprinter is unable to mimic exactly. Previous 3D printers are able to change the shape, depending on the digital image. Conversely, human organs not only change its shape but also composition, type and orientation of cells. Of course, convincing FDA that this technology is safe remains to be one of the hardest problems.
Even if one manages to print the organ, the process of implanting it into the patient’s body involves in invasive surgical process. One has to ensure that the implanted organ induces the right factors inside our body and receives the required nourishment. Most importantly the implanted organ should not elicit any immune response (immune rejection). Ideally, we would want to print organs directly in the human body.
Despite the challenges in printing organs, companies and universities are taking advantage of this new technology to print other things including tissues for drug testing and food (Pssttt click here to see chocolate being printed )
Due to the complexity of organs, it will be years or decades before we see this happening. On saying that there is a possibility of printing organs, we should still take good care of our body so you don’t find yourself on that list of people waiting for a printed organ.
- Herald Online: 3D printing is new way of manufacturing. (2013). Retrieved August 26, 2013, from http://www.heraldonline.com/2013/08/22/5140724/3d-printing-is-new-way-of-manufacturing.html
- National Geographic Known Universe: Print Tools [Video]. (2011). Retrieved August 26, 2013, from http://www.youtube.com/watch?feature=player_embedded&v=pQHnMj6dxj4#start=0:00;end=4:54;cycles=-1;autoreplay=false;showoptions=false
- Organ Printing [Video]. (2009). Retrieved August 26, 2013, from http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=80DhBLEhdzk
- The New York Times: At the Printer, Living Tissue. (2013). Retrieved August 26, 2013, from http://www.nytimes.com/2013/08/20/science/next-out-of-the-printer-living-tissue.html
- EPSRC video: World’s first chocolate printer [Video]. (2011). Retrieved August 26, 2013, from http://www.youtube.com/watch?feature=player_embedded&v=BIFi8but3Vw
- The New York Times: 3D Printers to make things you need or like. (2013). Retrieved August 26, 2013, from http://www.nytimes.com/2013/06/20/technology/personaltech/home-3-d-printers-to-make-things-you-need-or-just-like.html
Faustina Sari Setiawan is a Msc Biotech student in the University of Melbourne. She needs this technology to come true just because she is a sugar addict and might need a new liver soon.