In a renowned sci-fi novel Frankenstein, Victor Frankenstein animates a horrendous creature out of dead animals’ organs. Likewise, the idea of reanimating humans has intrigued a number of scientists, and have produced many Victor Frankensteins in real life for the past few centuries, which all failed badly. However, in the 21st century, it seems like we have found a way to make this possible: a little unexpectedly, through 3D printers.
Organ transplantation is a medical procedure in which one’s damaged organ is replaced with a healthy, functioning organ from another. The procedure can save patients with terminal organ failures which is otherwise incurable through surgical processes. Overall, it is a very meaningful practice where a donor can save numerous lives.
However, a recent research has shown a great shortage of organ donors. A research done by The Gift of a Lifetime states that in the United States, more than 84,000 men, women and children are waiting for organ transplants. More shockingly, 20 people die everyday waiting for an organ transplant in the United States. Due to the shortage of these interchangeable organs, scientists have realized the necessity of “artificial organs” for transplantation.
This is where the 3D printers come into play: recently, many organizations have developed a way to print various organs, ranging from kidneys to heart, with 3D printers. For instance, Che Connon, a professor of tissue engineering at Newcastle University, has developed a printable cornea that can be mass produced, implementing bio-ink containing stem cells.
He aims to make this inexpensive artificial corneas viable from 2020. In addition, a San Francisco based company, Organovo, has developed an artificial liver tissue that can replace damaged tissues in patients’ livers. Moreover, the bone-printing and kidney-printing technologies recently developed by the Glasgow University and Jennifer Lewis, respectively, have even more broadened the scope of the 3D printing technology. However, this burgeoning area of technology faces many downsides. The most prominent shortcoming of using 3D-printed organs is that they lack the cellular density and organ-level functions required for them to be used in organ repair and replacement. In addition, 3D printing demands high energy consumption and emits volatile microscopic particles.
Mindful of these setbacks, scientists have strived to diminish these downfalls with newly developed technologies. An example of such effort is the development of SWIFT. SWIFT involves a two-step process that begins with forming hundreds of thousands of stem-cell-derived aggregates into a dense, living matrix of organ building blocks.
The method implements a nozzle that prints gelatin vascular channel on the matrix that functions as the base of the printed organs. Thus, SWIFT highly enhances the precision and also greatly reduces the cost of organ printing process. With the recent development of the 3D printing methods, it is very prominent that the 3D printed organs will become very viable and prevalent, ultimately raising the survival rates of the patients dramatically. Before long, the 3D printers will not merely produce plastic toys, but will start to print lives.
<Noah Park / Fairmont HS 11th Grade