“If the federal government created a ‘human organ project’ and wanted to make the kidney, I literally think it could happen in 10 years.”
That’s according to Keith Murphy, CEO of a small, privately held biotech company called Organovo.
And he should know. His company is at the cutting-edge of a revolutionary technology called bioprinting. Scientists at the firm have created the building blocks to print human organs.
While researchers test new uses for 3-D printing, including culinary applications, scientists have already used “bioprinters” to successfully create tissue, like skin and vertebral disks.
However, creating full organs outside the human body is still a work in progress, largely because of issues with maintaining adequate blood supply.
As Dr. Daniel Kraft of Stanford School of Medicine’s Stem Cell Institute says, “Using stem cells or other techniques, it’s important to allow that organ to connect to the blood supply of the patient. One of the major challenges for tissue engineering is providing that blood supply.”
That’s where Organovo comes in.
You see, at the Tissue Engineering and Regenerative Medicine International Society (TERMIS) meeting in December, Organovo announced that it developed the first fully bioprinted blood vessels. And all it took were cells taken from the patient, and the firm’s bioprinting machine, NovoGen MMX.
Here’s how it works…
Just Replace Ink With Human Cells
Wired explained that once cells are taken from a patient’s adipose tissue (body fat or bone marrow), it only takes Organovo about seven more steps to get a useable vessel.
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Murphy says, “These vessels are the world’s first arteries made solely from cells of an individual person… Our results show the power of the NovoGen bioprinting technology to create tissue starting only with cells.”
And since the technology incorporates your own cells, the possibility for rejection essentially goes out the window.
But how long until we have fully functional organs? Not as long as you’d think…
On the Menu: Liver… But it’s Not for Dining
As Murphy says, creating a made-to-order liver or pancreas in just a few weeks “could happen in 10 years.”
Of course, Murphy also mentioned that it would take billions of dollars. And bioprinters that construct full organs could cost millions.
But considering that Transplant Living prices a heart and lung transplant at a staggering $1.1 million, it might be worth the initial funding in order to cut healthcare costs down the road. Not to mention the lifesaving benefits this technology could deliver.
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