What if the tens of thousands of people waiting for organ transplants in the United States didn’t have to wait? What if burn victims could replace their scars with skin that was indistinguishable from their own? What if an amputee could replace an entire limb with one that felt, looked and behaved exactly as the original?
In what could be the first step toward human immortality, scientists say they’ve found a way to do all of these things and more with the use of a technology found in many American homes: an ink-jet printer.
Researchers around the world say that by using the technology, they can actually “print” living human tissue and one day will be able to print entire organs.
“The promise of tissue engineering and the promise of ‘organ printing’ is very clear: We want to print living, three-dimensional human organs,” Dr. Vladimir Mironov said. “That’s our goal, and that’s our mission.”
The concept behind organ printing is one that’s been used in the manufacturing world for years, “rapid prototyping.”
“Rapid prototyping is nothing more than layer-by-layer deposition of any materials,” explained Mironov. “What is new is that instead of ceramic, instead of polymer, instead of some other nonorganic stuff, we use living tissue and living cells.”
Rapid prototyping is the process of quickly turning product designs into actual samples. Using a computer and a rapid prototype machine, one can build almost any object — limited only by size, complexity and material.
Even though the scientists behind this are obviously not aware of the implications of exponential acceleration in technology (predicting whole-organ printing timelines such as 50 years, which is ridiculously conservative), you have to praise them for inventing such a neat technology that will be very beneficial to humanity.
Though we may be half-a-century away from being able to print entire organs, scientists say we’re likely much closer to applications that will affect everyone’s life.
Boland is working with colleagues at the Medical University of South Carolina to build tissue to repair a heart that’s been damaged.
“The problem with heart tissue is that you can’t generate your own heart cells anymore,” explained Boland. “You’re born with a number of heart cells — maybe a billion or so — then, that’s it.”
Mironov said there were researchers working with two-dimensional bio-printed materials for work with drugs and toxicity.
Imagine living patches of skin that could be used to test medicines or even cosmetics.
Indeed as scientists and researchers work to make organ printing a reality, Mironov knows full well the potential implications for all of mankind.
“This could have the same impact as Guttenberg’s press,” he said.
These scientists are going to have to keep in mind that everything they are doing right now can also be done with stemcell technology.
I wonder which one will first get to the level of producing complete organs. Not that it matters anything to the people who will actually end up making use of the technology. But hey… competition is a good thing, right?