For years the concept of cloning animals with the intention of growing body parts for humans has been on the table, and several transplants have even taken place successfully. But doctors suggest that at some point in the future living tissue and organs could actually be simply “printed” from a machine in the same way many products are simply cut or spliced together in our own homes. The problem of organ shortages could soon be nothing more than a memory thanks to something called bio-printing.
Patients for years have suffered as they wait for an organ to become available to them. The very process of keeping a person alive artificially is often dangerous and expensive and the alternatives can sometimes be even more-so. According to a study performed between the UNOS and the APTN the average waiting time for a patient to receive a heart transplant is around 230 days. Considering a human being can survive without a heart for an average of around 30 seconds without losing consciousness and afterwards dying, there is a serious discrepancy here. But with the potential applications of bio-printing, there is a very real possibility that the world could enjoy better health benefits as organs are specially tailored to each individual and developed in a laboratory.
The first machine capable of carrying out this miracle of medicine is already operating. Currently the technology is already able to create living arteries desperately needed in life saving heart bypass surgery. In the next five years these arteries are expected to be ready for the mainstream market making the list of organs and tissues in short supply even shorter. But surely the jump from artery to heart would take another twenty years, some may say. Not so. Doctors at Organovo suggest more complex organs could be developed in no less than ten years. The impact this would have, if organs were manufactured in massive quantities out of simple biological tissues, would make survival of those requiring heart transplants and other organs a matter not of how, but merely of how much. With organs being created by the hour, a single factory could meet the demands of all domestic needs. An additional factory could then outsource organs to other countries making itself an economic force to be reckoned with. Of course this is assuming the technology will translate effectively and in a timely manner to the more complex organs. Spokespeople for Organovo are, however, extremely optimistic about this and suggest the technology will change lives and the field of medicine.
Will this be one of the technologies that makes the next generation effectively immortal? No one knows. What is known is that the regeneration of organs will have a far reaching impact and be technology’s answer to the tragic waiting that millions of patients have suffered with over the course of modern medicine’s history. And if the replacement becomes widespread enough, who’s to say it must end here? If transplant techniques become effective and safe enough, there is even the possibility of transplanting organs simply because they are not “good enough” anymore. Why wait for a potentially hazardous heart attack if you can simply get your heart replaced? Of course this extreme example may be decades away, but there’s no telling what the future could potentially hold for medical science.