It’s like something out of a science fiction movie and if I didn’t see it with my own eyes, I scarce would believe it myself. Twice annually, the world’s greatest thinkers and doers gather together in an exchange of ideas at a Conference called “TED”, which stands for Technology, Entertainment, Design. This year, Dr. Anthony Atala, Director of the Wake Forest Institute for Regenerative Medicine, presented one of the most fascinating lectures about the future of organ transplantation and repair. Not the least of which, was the ability to print organs using common desktop printer technology.
We are living longer due to advances any medical treatments, but the problem we are now facing is that we are often outliving our organs. The need for organ donations is at an all time high and the supply is not meeting the demand. That is where research groups, like those that Dr. Atala heads up, play a critical role in meeting future demand. In his presentation, Dr. Atala pointed out 3 main problems we face in manufacturing organs:
- Biomaterials – It is challenging to find materials that can be used in the body that will last.
- Blood Supply Channels- Solid organs are vascular and it is hard to get blood supply to them.
- Cells- Harvesting enough cells to successfully grow them outside the body is hard to do.
He went on to show how they are using “scaffolding”, which are biomaterials that can be placed in the body, along with the body’s own cells to regenerate structures. A very touching story came about when he introduced Luke Massella who received the first engineered bladder 10 years ago. Massella described how the work of Dr. Atala saved his life.
Perhaps the most stunning part of this presentation were the use of printers to create organs. He showed how the used a standard HP inkjet printer, filled with cells instead of ink, to create a 3 dimensional structure like bone, for instance. The printer used a “3-D elevator” to develop the structure one layer at a time. Even more amazing were the highly sophisticated printers that could actually reproduce an entire organ. Using 3-D imaging, they were able to scan a patient’s kidneys and have produced a machine that will literally print a kidney one layer at a time. Dr. Atala said that over 90% of all people waiting on a donor organ are waiting on a kidney. That is why they set out to reproduce this organ first. It should be known that this technology is still a good ways off from being ready to be used in humans, but it is still an incredible advance.
You’re probably sitting there thinking, “this guy has to be crazy”, and I can’t blame you for feeling that way. Below, you can see the footage from the “TED” conference where Dr. Atala shows this technology in action. If you want get straight to the cool stuff, forward to the 7 minute mark.
For more information about Dr. Atala’s groundbreaking research, visit the Wake Forest Institute for Regenerative Medicine at http://www.wakehealth.edu/WFIRM/.