Scientists announced last week for the first time that they were able to 3-D print an organ, successfully transplant it into an animal and get it to work.
For years, scientists have been 3-D printing “liveable” tissue, meaning it almost replicated real human tissue but was deemed too weak, too small and too unstable to be transplanted in humans and animals. It’s been a constant challenge to get the tissue to live outside it’s normal environment long enough for it to bond with blood and fuse naturally with the human body. Due to this struggle, some scientists are doubtful that 3-D printed organs will ever become more than a tale of science fiction.
Researchers at the Wake Forest Institute for Regenerative Medicine reported that they’ve successfully been able to keep a living ear on a mouse for about two months. The ear formed new tissue and blood vessels, good signs that the mouse’s body successfully integrated with the 3-D printed ear.
The basic idea of 3-D printing organs is that if the right type of cell is planted in the right spot, nature will take over, thus allowing the print to fuse and develop with the cells, arrange themselves in order and on their own.
Over the past few years, scientists have been printing organs from kidneys to livers, in which part of a kidney survived about two weeks. The kidney tissues were made up of three different kinds of cells, thus the ability to create more complex tissues and organs became achievable.
With the 3-D printers, scientists use cells as the ink and layer them in a precise pattern in order for them to fully grow and develop into fully formed organs. With enough ear cells in the right shape and in the right location, that’ll basically form the ear. It’s like a complicated version of connect the dots.
Up until this point, 3-D printed tissue died immediately upon print as it’s extremely tricky to get the water-based gel that these cells are made out of, to stay in place. The ink that holds these cells together contains tiny pathways for nutrients and oxygen to flow through, enough to keep it alive to begin forming its own blood vessels.
Not only have organs been printed and implanted but bone structures have also been printed with human stem cells which triggered a blood vessel system that was seen after five months. A new jaw bone was implanted in a rat formed bone tissue.
3-D printed tissue connecting to working blood vessels is a crucial and huge step towards the creation of fully-functioning artificial organs for humans. Overall, these artificial organs that survive in the long run are obtainable through technology.
The CEO for a Russian company that transplanted a thyroid into a mouse recently, stated that the ability to have fully-functioning permanent printed organs may be achievable in about 15 years or so.
Overall, 3-D printed organs are not yet ready for human transplant yet. The parts still need to be monitered for a while to make sure they do not die or decay as well as how they perform within the body over time.
The purpose of this is not only to create a liver for someone who might have been waiting for a year for a transplant but to tailor organs made appropriately in the right size and shape for a person’s body as well as grown from the person’s own cells so the body does not reject it.
A bioengineer from Harvard University mentioned that although she would love for all of this to be true and was skeptical that 3-D printed transplantable organs could ever be a reality, she mentioned that organs are “highly complicated architectures.”
While all of this may be true, this might be the next big thing in our society.