I was reading Time Healthland’s “5 Discoveries That Will Change the Future of Organ Transplants” when the last one blew my mind. Really really far. It’s 3D printing…of organs. I don’t know where I’ve been for the past few years, but apparently this is technology that they have been working on for quite a while and getting good results as well!
This picture is of the world’s first 3D-printed bionic organ created in February by researchers at Princeton! The article says that the ear is a long ways away from being used in humans, but doesn’t confirm whether that is the end goal of this research. Other researchers, it turns out, are actually working on printing 3D hearts that could be used for transplants.
We think we can do it in 10 years — that we can build, from a patient’s own cells, a total ‘bioficial’ heart.
This sounds really cool on its own, but when you put it into context, you can really see why this is such a great idea and a much-needed device. First, there are over 75,000 active patients waiting for a transplant just in the US. The problem is that the list continues to grow, but there is a great shortage of organ donors. This means that a lot of patients spend too much time waiting and many of them never get to the top of the list. This 3D printing would be a way for doctors to provide on-demand organs to those needing a transplant.
Additionally, many patients who do receive transplant organs have bad reactions to them and end up rejecting the new organ. To combat this, doctors provide anti-rejection drugs. The 3D printing, however, does away with that as well. The new organ will be made of the patient’s very own cells so rejection of the new organ is not a serious possibility.
Finally, the article estimates that the bioficial heart could cost around $100,000 excluding hospital and surgery costs, which is an additional $150,000. They say this is less than a typical heart transplant now, plus the new heart won’t require the anti-rejection drugs. They even say that insurance may even cover the costs if it were federally approved.
While all of that is reason enough to promote this kind of research, this is the part that made me extremely excited:
The ultimate goal is to extract a patient’s fat through liposuction, isolate cells with a machine, mix them with the glue and “print” a heart — all within an hour.
In one hour! You could have a new heart within an hour of you suiting up for the liposuction! So, how do we know this is not too good to be true and that it isn’t all sci-fi? Researchers have already created and implanted parts of hearts into mice and grown ulna bones for rabbits as part of their study.
I am so excited to learn the results of these studies and greatly look forward to hopefully seeing this procedure implemented in hospitals on a regular basis.