Some day in the not-too-distant-future you might need a new kidney, or perhaps a new liver. If you do, a doctor will be able to scan your DNA, enter some parameters into a computer and then 'print out' your new organ for you.
Science fiction? Not according to medical experts that see such a technology in the years ahead. And while it may not be just around the corner, it might be just up the block.
A revolutionary technology—now in the prototype stage—is called the 3-D bio-printer. Developed in the US by a company called Organovo (a play on words meaning "new organ"), the creators claim they intend to develop its capabilities to 'print' arteries that will be used by future surgeons during heart bypass surgery.
Organovo has already proven their ability to grow arteries.
The goal of the company is to make the infamous "transplant list" extinct. Lists of patients waiting for organs are notorious and a significant number of people waiting for an organ die before they reach the top of the list.
Since organ donors number less than those hoping to receive an organ, many patients play an involuntary game of organ roulette with the grim reaper and hope they can last long enough to get an organ.
Technology already exists
The ability to print out solid objects from computer programs has been used in the plastics industry for many years. What Organovo plans to do is adapt that technology for bio-material such as blood vessels and ultimately teeth, bone tissue and organs. They plan on building live tissue instead of plastic.
Although translating the technology from plastics to bio-materials will take some time, the company expects it will be able to print out whole organs in less than 10 years.
An incredible process
Organovo has already printed out arterial tissue.
First they harvest cells from the patient's own body.This assures a DNA match and eliminate the possibility of the body rejecting the new tissue. Those cells are built in layers with a thin layer of "bio-paper gel" between them—not unlike building a tower of Oreo cookies with cream-filling between each layer.
As the building process continues, following a computer generated model of the bio-structure, the gel gradually dissipates and the layered cells join together forming a the complete arterial structure.
The CEO of the company, Keith Murphy told Engineer magazine in an interview that "Ultimately, the idea would be for surgeons to have tissue on demand for various uses." Those uses initially would be for muscle, cartilage, tendon, blood vessel and bone tissue, but eventually would be able to process and build hearts, livers, spleens and other major organs.
More information on the company's new technology can be found here.