The applications for 3D printers seem ever more incredible. Chocolate decorations, cars and hearing aids are just some of the purposes for which scientists have begun to use 3D printers. But soon, 3D printers may well become life savers.
We’ve already looked at how inkjet printers will soon be used to save the lives of soldiers and civilians by producing IED bomb detectors. And we also learnt how scientists have used a 3D printer to artificially create the blood vessels necessary to transplant an artificial organ into a transplant patient. Now doctors have gone one step further; they think they may have discovered how to create artificial transplant organs by using 3D printers.
A 3D Printer Solution to the Organ Shortage?
A pioneering regenerative medicine specialist at Wake Forest University Baptist Medical Centre, Dr Anthony Atala, may have unearthed a solution for the future. He has discovered a way for 3D printers to print organs, which he hopes will help save the lives of transplant patients in the future.
He recently demonstrated his discovery by producing a kidney shaped mould produced on his specialised 3D printer at the recent Technology, Entertainment, Design (TED) Conference.
Rather than using traditional inks or printing materials, Atala explained that the printer will use bio material made from the tissue of the patient. The process to producing the organ, in this case a kidney, uses scanners to build a 3D image of the kidney.
A tissue sample smaller than a postage stamp is then taken from the patient, which produces the bio material necessary to manufacture the organ, and because the tissue used to make the organ will come from the patient, it means that the patient will not have any of the existing problems of their body rejecting the organ.
The 3D printer will then create an almost perfect copy of the transplant patient’s kidney one layer at a time. It has been estimated that the whole process will take just 7 hours to complete!
While the technology is still some way from being perfected and the first 3D printed kidney may be unavailable in the near future, Dr Atala is however confident that regenerative medicine may one day soon solve the organ shortage crisis.
The Organ Transplant Dilemma
To put it simply, there are too many patients awaiting organ transplants and not enough available organs to satisfy the demand. In the UK alone, as we can see from the table below, there are 7,695 patients waiting to receive a vital organ to give them a chance of life, or at least give them a better quality of life. Sadly, around 10% of these patients will die this year. That means that on average, somewhere in the UK today, 2 or 3 people will die simply because they didn’t receive a new organ in time.
Active UK Transplant List (As at 27.10.11)
|Total||Paediatric (Under 18s)|
|Other (Multi Organ)||34||7|
How You Can Help
According to UKTransplant.org.uk the major reason for the shortage of organs is that many people have not recorded their wishes about donation or discussed it with their families. Too few people have joined the NHS Organ Donor Register and made sure that their families know their wishes. You can help by joining today.
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Story Source: Nextbigfuture