Fab another little piece of my heart now, baby: 3D printing human organs

The idea of printing replacement biological tissue and organs has been around for a while – we mentioned the development the pressure-assisted spinning system back in 2007, in fact – but it looks like it’s finally reached the point where people think they can make a profit from it on a commercial scale. Via io9, The Economist tells us about Organovo and their US$200,000-a-pop commercially-available bio-printer:

To start with, only simple tissues, such as skin, muscle and short stretches of blood vessels, will be made, says Keith Murphy, Organovo’s chief executive, and these will be for research purposes. Mr Murphy says, however, that the company expects that within five years, once clinical trials are complete, the printers will produce blood vessels for use as grafts in bypass surgery. With more research it should be possible to produce bigger, more complex body parts. Because the machines have the ability to make branched tubes, the technology could, for example, be used to create the networks of blood vessels needed to sustain larger printed organs, like kidneys, livers and hearts.

I can’t wait to see what uses the street will find for this technology once it gets cheaper…

… no, scratch that. I think maybe I can wait after all.

One thought on “Fab another little piece of my heart now, baby: 3D printing human organs”

  1. There’s a point I haven’t seen anyone mention when talking about 3D printing of organs: where the cells come from. Clearly there are rejection issues when implanting organs made from cells other than the receiver’s. Ideally, you’d take some of the receiver’s stem cells and culture new cells of the appropriate cell types. That’s going to take a while, and is (at least now) a much more labor-intensive and complex procedure than just the printing. Unless there are cell lines that are universal or at least large-group donor types, like type O for blood, in which case the cells could be cultured in advance and kept in stock, with advantages of economies of scale. Either way, I don’t think printed organs are going to be a viable clinical tool until those problems are resolved, and that might be longer than the time required to perfect the printing techniques.

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