Real Sci-Fi: The Future Of 3D Organ Printing

In the world today, there is a huge crisis – organ donor shortage. There are just not enough organs going around which can be used to save people’s lives. In the U.S. alone, an average of 18 people dies every single day waiting for organ transplants that just don’t arrive. What has been happening in the past and still occurs today is that when organs become available, they have to be harvested and transported. A big reason people are in dire need of organ transplants is that they don’t take very good care of their bodies or health. Authority Reports is there for you every step of the way for guided health assistance. What scientists have quietly been working on is a way to merge science and tissue engineering to make personalized organs any time the patient needs it and the fantastic thing is, it’s based on their own body.

It’s all very science-fictiony with an air of an Isaac Asimov feel to it. It’s a far cry from the 2005 science-fiction-thriller film ‘The Island’ starring Scarlett Johansson and Ewan McGregor. In this movie, clones are made without self-realization that they actually are clones. ‘The Island’ is a heavenly place where these clones have the chance to go to if they win the ‘lottery’. Unfortunately, impending doom awaits as they reach ‘The Island’ they are strapped down only to meet their deadly fate as their organs are harvested for use for their real human counterparts living normal lives.

Organovo is pioneering a way to build human tissue by printing it cell by cell. Before stepping down as CEO, Keith Murphy, who was the co-founder, explained that they are currently making tissues such as blood vessels. The process involves taking stem cells, for example, from an individual’s fat tissue and then a blood vessel is built from that one source of cells. Very futuristic indeed!

What Are The Actual Steps Involved?

  1. The scientist involved, first designs a virtual shape of the tissue they want to print. The interface on the computer is very easy to use. Patterns of building blocks are formed on a screen using the specific computer programme. When designing these building blocks of the virtual shape, the computer defines whether or not the material of that particular cell or structure is a material or a gel. This then leads to the printer automatically knowing which one to print.
  1. The next step is to make bio-ink from living human cells. First, you need the raw materials – the bio-ink for the printer. For example, you may extract human liver cells. Within the two different cartridges of the bioprinter, one will contain liver source cells and another will have cells that make up a lot of the supporting material.

How Does The Printer Work?

The principle of the bioprinter is similar to the way that an inkjet printer produces words. Following the design on the computer, the 3D printer creates sheets of cell friendly bio paper made from collagen or gelatin to temporarily hold the cells in place. It will then go ahead to print the living cell clusters onto the bio paper drop by drop. Each drop of this bio-ink is approximately 250 micrometers wide. This is fractionally bigger than a strand of human hair. Pinpoint accuracy, of course, is essential.

The phenomenal thing about 3D printing is that scientists have the ability to control exactly where the cells go. They can put them where they want them to go and then they rely on them to do what they naturally know.

Once the cells are in place, nature takes over. The cell clusters, which are kept alive in incubators, begin to fuse to each other thus creating more complex tissue structures. So it goes from print to incubation, to culture in 24 hrs and then they are ready to go for toxicology studies and more.

The Big Question Everyone Wants to be Answered

The really big question is – how close a match is the printed tissue? The success of 3D bioprinting means cells, for instance – liver cells can already be used in scientific research to test drugs and study diseases and because the tissue has the same DNA, these tests can be tailored to individual patients – simply amazing. This is a major breakthrough in medicine!!

What Lies Ahead

Keith Murphy was asked what he sees in the future of 3D organ printing. He replied that in the far future, the hope for this technology is that a patient’s own cells can be taken to a central location where scientists can then build them an organ for eventual transplant.

All in all, this is a total convergence of 3D printing, tissue engineering, computer-aided design, and genomics all integrating and coming together to enable scientists to build new organs and new tissues in new, powerful and impactful ways.

And who knows, perhaps this sort of engineering may just lead to some very interesting Artificial Intelligence as well when integrated with technology and electronics. Let’s see what the future holds. It certainly looks like whatever lies down this road is paved in exciting and curious possibility!