Every year about 120,000 organs, mostly kidneys, are transplanted from one human being to another. Sometimes the donor is a living volunteer. Usually, though, he or she is the victim of an accident, stroke, heart attack or similar sudden event that has terminated the life of an otherwise healthy individual. But a lack of suitable donors, particularly as cars get safer and first-aid becomes more effective, means the supply of such organs is limited. Many people therefore die waiting for a transplant. That has led researchers to study the question of how to build organs from scratch.
One promising approach is to print them. Lots of things are made these days by three-dimensional printing, and there seems no reason why body parts should not be among them. As yet, such “bioprinting” remains largely experimental. But bioprinted tissue is already being sold for drug testing, and the first transplantable tissues are expected to be ready for use in a few years’ time.
Image Credit: Wake Forest Institute for Regenerative Medicine