The Future of Organ Transplants: 3D Printed Organs

The 3D printing craze has immensely evolved over the last couple of decades, from only being able to print small, simple everyday objects to now designing and printing scientific tools to aid in studies, and even presenting the idea of printing small houses. As this technology progresses, there is a possibility that 3D printed human organs could eventually be used for organ transplants.Yet, there are a few issues scientists have run into along the path of this new discovery.

3D printing has taken over the pharmaceutical industry, as dental implants, prosthetic devices, and models for doctors to practice on before surgery have all been implemented into the industry. But the leap between printing with metal and plastics to live cells that will form a functioning organ is huge. And there are many questions that have arisen from these new discoveries.

3D printing can happen in two different ways: one being a very fine tipped pen releases a resin paste that is formed from the bottom up; or two being a laser breaks away excess resin from a block from the top down to form the desired structure. Artificial organs can be printed using either way, yet instead of using resin, biological materials are needed in order to create a grouping of live cells. So far, scientists have been able to print tissue models, which have been used by multiple pharmaceutical companies to test certain drugs, but the formation of an entire organ that shares the same structural characteristics and functions as the organs that function inside of a human body has proved to be quite difficult.

The first problem allies within the differentiation of cells. In order to reduce the result of immune rejection of the printed organ, scientists have looked into implementing a patient’s stem cells into the printed piece, as their immune system would be able to easily recognize the artificial organ. Yet, that idea comes with some setbacks, one being that there is yet a way to get the stem cells’ to differentiate into the type of cell that is needed to produce that particular organ. Thus so far, only a small sample of tissue has been printed and scientists are still working on mirroring the density of a live human organ.

The second problem allies within the vasculature of the artificial organs. Vasculature is essentially the arraignment of blood vessels in an organ. Organs, artificial or not, are only able to properly function if there is enough consistent blood flow. Designing the veins that are embedded within an organ is a very tedious job, and if done wrong could lead to that organ not functioning at all. One idea was to print using an already existing mold, which helps to support the structure of the organ, rather than building from the bottom up, hoping the structure will hold. Yet even with this new process, the amount of veins and arteries that scientists are able to print are not even close to the insurmountable amount of blood vessels that are found in real organs.

While 3D printed organs have come a long way, the path to the end of this new discovery is even longer. Yet through the development of technology and the recruitment of even more scientists and medical professionals, the end result will hopefully be here within the next couple of years.

About Mr. Mohn

Biology Teacher

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