Could 3D printing solve the organ transplant shortage?

Erik Gatenholm first saw a 3D bioprinter in early 2015. His father, Paul, a professor in chemistry and biopolymer technology at Chalmers University of Technology in Gothenburg, had bought one for his department. It cost somewhere in the region of $200,000. “My father was like, ‘This thing can print human organs,’” Gatenholm recalls, still awestruck. “I said, ‘Bullshit!’ Then it printed a little piece of cartilage. It wasn’t cartilage, but it was like, this could be cartilage. That was the moment when it was like, ‘This is frickin’ cool!’”

Gatenholm, who had long owned a regular 3D printer, decided then that he wanted to do something in 3D bioprinting. His language might be a bit Bill & Ted – he grew up between Sweden and the US, where his father is a visiting professor – but his intent and ambitions are very serious. Gatenholm had started his first biotech company aged 18 and he realised that if this machine had the potential to print organs, like his father said, then it had the potential to radically change the world of medicine.

There is a global shortage of organs available for lifesaving transplants. In the UK, for example, you can now expect to wait an average of 944 days – more than two-and-a-half years – for a kidney transplant on the NHS. There’s a similar shortage of liver, lungs and other organs. The lack of transplant tissues is estimated to be the leading cause of death in America. Around 900,000 deaths a year, or around one-third of all deaths in the US, could be prevented or delayed by organ or engineered tissue transplants. The demand, simply, is endless.

Gatenholm’s father introduced him to Héctor Martínez, one of his students who was doing a PhD on tissue engineering, and early on another student, Ivan Tournier, was also involved in the brainstorming. “We were talking about doing some experiments,” says Gatenholm, who is 27, tall and handsome even by Swedish standards.

“So I said, ‘Why don’t we just go online and buy the ink we need?’ And Ivan said, ‘Well, there’s no ink. You can’t buy it.’ And I was like, ‘What do you mean?’ It was the dumbest thing I ever heard. There’s a bunch of printers on the market, just buy the ink. And he said, ‘No, you don’t understand, there is no ink. You have to make it yourself, you have to mix something.’ So I was like, ‘Just make an ink then!’”

By Tim Lewis | The Guardian

Image Credit: ETH Zürich

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About Peter Coffaro 1104 Articles
A growth-driven and strategic executive, Peter Coffaro commands more than 20 years of progressive management success within the medical device industry. As a District Sales Manager for Stryker Orthopaedics, Peter was responsible for managing and directing a regional sales force to achieve sales and profit goals within the Rocky Mountain region. Previously, he was the Director of Sales & Marketing for Amp Orthopedics. In this role, Peter was responsible for planning, developing, and leading all sales and marketing initiatives. Peter is a former orthopedic distributor in the Pacific Northwest. He has also worked with DePuy Orthopaedics as well as Zimmer, and held positions in sales, sales training, and sales management. Peter has an extensive background in organizational development, business development, sales management, negotiating and P&L management. Peter holds a B.S. degree in Biology from Northern Illinois University.

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