October 22, 2011
Organ printing, or the process of engineering tissue via 3D printing, possesses revolutionary potential for organ transplants. But do sociological consequences follow?
Organ printing offers help to those in need of immediate organ transplants and other emergency situations, but it also pushes the medical establishment towards utilizing artificial biology as an immediate means of treatment over sound nutrition and preventative treatment. The hasty technological advancement towards organ printing is offering surgery-happy medical establishments even more ways to use invasive medical practices.
The creation process of artificial tissue is a complex and expensive process. In order to build 3D structures such as a kidney or lung, a printer is used to assemble cells into whichever shape is wanted.
For this to happen, the printer creates a sheet of bio-paper which is cell-friendly. Afterwards, it prints out the living cell clusters onto the paper. After the clusters are placed close to one another, the cells naturally self-organize and morph into more complex tissue structures. The whole process is then repeated to add multiple layers with each layer separated by a thin piece of bio-paper. Eventually, the bio-paper dissolves and all of the layers become one.
To get a further understanding of the methodology, it is important to understand the current challenges that go along with ‘printing’ artificial organs to be used in human bodies.
As of now, scientists are only able to produce a maximum of about 2 inches of thickness. “When you print something very thick, the cells on the inside will die — there’s no nutrients getting in there — so we need to print channels there and hope that they become blood vessels”, explains Thomas Boland, an associate professor at Clemson University.
Blood vessels feed organs in the body, keeping them alive and working. Without blood vessels, the organ cannot function. This is the problem scientists are currently facing with organ printing.
Using the patient’s own cells as a catalyst, artificial organs may soon become mainstream practice among treatment centers worldwide. As the health of the nation delves down to record negatives, organ printing may be the establishment’s answer to a number of preventable conditions.
Organ printing is relatively new, and the idea of printing new organs sounds very much like science fiction. But it is on its way to becoming a reality. It is more than just a possibility that 50 years from now people will be walking around with a new lung printed in a lab.
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