3D printing human organs to meet transplant demands

There is a problem in healthcare, a problem that has been around for years. The problem is that there are 7,300 people waiting for an organ transplant in the UK,  but only 3,000 are made each year [source]. So the number of people waiting continues to grow and people are made to wait until they are seriously ill until they are bumped to the top of the list.

But what if you could create new organs from scratch, rather than wait for another person to die. How about using a specialised 3D printer to create human tissue, which can be bioprinted into any organ required. With enough printers, you’d be able to create a bespoke new organ for everyone on the transplant list.

That is exactly the vision of Organovo – a company that designs and creates functional human tissues using 3D bioprinting technology.

They are currently working with researchers and pharmaceutical companies to test drugs on functional human tissues before ever administering the drug to a living person. This is amazing enough on its own, but the next step takes it to a whole other level.

They plan to create functional human tissue and organs that can be implanted into the human body to replace damaged or diseased tissues.

So how does it work? Using a 3D bioprinter, they build up stacks of human cells layers (using real human tissue, not synthetic) and use a gel to bond the stacks together. The human cells take care of the rest, by bonding together as they would in a human body, thus becoming living human tissue.

Organovo currently develop structures 1mm thick, so full sized organs are a little while off yet. But according to their CEO, Keith Murphy, the biggest jump is going from 1mm to 5mm structures, and after that going to full sized organs is actually easier.

So let’s hope they manage 5mm structures in the near future. Watch the video above or visit their website for more information.

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