Organ Printing- Transforming the Future of Medicine

Organ Printing- Transforming the Future of Medicine

Ever seen vintage cars zoom past you as if it were brand new? Cars that are decades old are restored to their old glory simply by replacing the parts, right from the headlamps and seats to the engine.What if we are able to do the same with our body? Can we replace major organs so that our body functions normally, just like it did in our youth? Recent research says yes. One novel technology that is helping us get closer to this dream is organ printing. 


In April, 2019 scientists from the Tel Aviv University in Israel, announced the creation of the first ever 3-D printed heart made using a human cell. It was created using ‘bioink’. Bioink is a material containing the patient's own cells with biopolymer gels. This material is used to print the organs layer by layer using the technology of 3-D printing. The heart thus formed was anatomically similar to a human heart, complete with four chambers and vasculature. It even showed the ability to contract. However, the heart was smaller than the average thumb size, just about the size of a rabbit heart. Moreover, it did not show pumping activity.Yet this research has given impetus to the ambition of making fully functional lab-grown organs. 


Organ printing in progress Organ printing in progress.



The bioprinted heart made by Israeli scientists in 2019 The bioprinted heart made by Israeli scientists.

The concept of growing organs in the lab began in the late 20th century with the development of 3-D printing in 1984. With the advent of biocompatible materials like ceramics and composites, the uses of 3-D printing in the medical field broadened. This led to researchers exploring the possibility of making organs in the laboratory. The first success to such a pursuit came in 1999 when researchers from the Wake Forest Institute of Regenerative Medicine created an artificial human bladder, which was successfully implanted into patients. Till date, these patients have not shown any serious bladder related complications. This bladder was created using an artificial scaffold of the organ, and then seeded with cells of the patient. Similar techniques are being used to create ears, cornea, etc. However, when such an organ is implanted, immunosuppressive drugs have to be administered to the patients, making them susceptible to infections for a brief period of time. 

This shortcoming was overcome by the invention of new bioprinters which could use live human cells to create new organs. In 2009, Organovo, an early stage medical laboratory, created the first biodegradable vessels without using scaffolds. Thus a new field of organ printing was born that used human cells only. However, most of the studies done so far, failed to create a completely functional model of the human organ which can be implanted. With the printing of the anatomically similar heart by the Israeli scientists, we have come a step closer to achieving this dream. 

Some 3D printed organs Some of the 3D printed organs.

Organ printing will transform the lives of thousands of patients in the future. Currently there are about 109, 000 patients in the US alone who are on the transplant list. Of those who receive a transplant about 50% die of immune reactions within 10 years. Bioprinting organs with the patient's own cells solves both these problems. What's more, this technique doesn't necessarily need stem cells thanks to biotechnology. So a patient who doesn't have harvested stem cells can still benefit.Normal organs can also be transplanted to patients suffering from certain types of diabetes and inborn diseases in which a particular enzyme is missing. Skin grafting for burn victims, corneal transplants to old aged people,the list of such benefits of organ printing goes on. Coupled with knowledge of the genes, scientists are also exploring the possibility of making organs which are programmed to kill cancer cells besides carrying out its physiologic functions. Studies are being conducted in this direction as well. 


World over a lot of universities and companies are conducting more research on organ printing and many positive results are being obtained. There is no doubt about organ printing becoming a boon to patients in the future. But is organ printing also the answer to obtaining eternity?Can we replace organs and live forever just like the vintage cars? Can mankind win over death? With the progress we have so far made this can be hard to ascertain, but I would say that it definitely is a possibility. What do you think? Let me know in the comments below!




This is so informative!