While some innovators are working on making 3D-printed food, others are hard at work, creating 3D-printed organs and blood vessels. Although they’re not ready just yet, researchers expect to see the day when organ transplants are as easy as pressing “print.”


Imagine the dreadful news that you or a loved one needs an organ transplant, but there are no current donors that are a match. Imagine that stress, worry and fear you might experience, not knowing when and if you’ll receive the organ in time. Now imagine that doctor telling you, “Don’t worry. We have a 3D printer that can print one for you.” Meet the future of 3D printing.


University of Sydney, Stanford, MIT and Harvard researchers came together to find a feasible way to make bio-printed organs. While growing organ tissue is something researchers have been doing since the 1990s, making a functional organ involves making an organ with a network of capillaries. This allows blood to flow through, which gives the organ the fuel it needs to function. For the very first time, researchers discovered a way to print blood vessels, which is a real “game changer.”


The process involves making dissolvable blood vessel fibers using a scientific bio-printer. The blood vessels are then coated with human endothelial cells and a protein mixture. When the contraption is exposed to light, the cells harden around the fibers, making functional, hollow channels that serve as blood vessels.


The idea is that organs will then be grown around the blood vessels, making an organ just as functional as a real one. Since it is made from real human cells and other materials found in natural organs, in time, the body should accept it. Who knows, maybe receiving a bio-printed organ will also decrease the risk that the body will reject the transplant. 


The hope is that the technology can serve those who are waiting for organ transplants that may never come. In a recent study by Anthony Atala reported that more than 78,000 Americans are waiting for organ transplants this year. The problem is that less than 3,500 organs have been donated since January, making the prospect of receiving an organ a difficult one.


Researchers are still in the beginning stages of the development, but hope to eventually see a day when full organs can be printed, on demand. It is an arduous process, but certainly worthwhile.


BioPrinting in action below:


3D Printing at BWH from BWH Public Affairs on Vimeo.



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