Anthony Atala, director of the Wake Forest Institute for Regenerative Medicine, has been working on growing and regenerating tissues and organs for years. He demonstrated an experiment of printing organs on 3D printers using cells at TED conference. The experiment is still at an early-stage, what Dr. Atala showed at TED was a kidney-shaped mold without the vessels or internal structures. And he hoped one day the 3D printer could print actual tissues and organs.
Basically Atala uses a CT scanner to scan a patient's organ that needs to be replaced first to get an accurate 3D image. A 3D printer uses a small tissue sample from the patient to print this 3D model out layer by layer. It takes about 7 hours for the whole process. The device is also being explored for structured tissue such as the ear.
According to the United Network for Organ Donation, there are more than 114,000 people on the nationwide waiting list for organs transplantation. Organ transplantation is risky, and too often there aren't enough donated organs to meet the growing demand. Meanwhile, patients must undergo painful and complicated dialysis treatment. Anthony Atala says, "Can we grow organs instead of transplanting them?" He and his team are engineering over 30 tissues and whole organs in their lab.
(A researcher dips a bladder-shaped mold, seeded with human bladder cells, into a growth solution. (Brian Walker / AP))
One of his first patient, Luke Massella received a lab-grown bladder 10 years ago was also on stage talking about how this technique saved his life when he was at age 10. He was born with spina bifida, a birth defect that paralyzed his bladder. By the time he was 10 years old, his kidneys were failing. In the video below Luke Massella told about his story.
In 2007, Atala and a team of Harvard University researchers showed that stem cells can be harvested from the amniotic fluid of pregnant women. This and other breakthroughs in the development of smart bio-materials and tissue fabrication technology promises to revolutionize the practice of medicine.
It might sound like science fiction, but in the future scanners and printers can be used to bioprint new skin directly on wounds or simply just create organs on-demand. In his speech at the TED conference, Atala said that he and his team are actively designing a printer prototype that would do exactly that.
"I know it sounds funny," he says, "but that's the way it works."
Posted in 3D Printing Technology
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