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  • Borislav Ivanov

When Will 3D Printing Organs Become a Reality?

What if physicians could just print a kidney from the patient's own cells, rather than needing to find a donor match and pray the patient's body doesn't reject the transplanted kidney?

Thanks to 3D organ bioprinting, that might happen within a decade, according to Jennifer Lewis, a professor at Harvard University's Wyss Center for Biologically Inspired Engineering. According to a 2019 research, organ bioprinting is the use of 3D-printing technology to combine numerous cell types, growth hormones, and biomaterials in a layer-by-layer way to build bioartificial organs that ideally mimic their natural counterparts.

This form of regenerative medicine is in the early stages of research, with "genuine human need" driving the invention, according to Lewis.

According to the Health Resources and Services Administration, there are 106,800 men, women, and children on the national organ transplant waiting list in the United States as of March 8, 2023. Nevertheless, live donors donate just approximately 6,000 organs each year on average, whereas dead donors provide roughly 8,000 organs per year on average.

According to Lewis, the reason for this disparity is "a combination of people who have catastrophic health events, but their organs aren't high enough quality to donate, or they're not on the organ donor list to begin with, and the fact that it's actually very difficult to find a good match" so the patient's body doesn't reject the transplanted organ.

Even if live donors are an option, “to do surgery on someone who doesn’t need it” is a significant risk, according to Dr. Anthony Atala, head of the Wake Forest Center for Regenerative Medicine. “So, living related donors are usually not the preferred way to go because then you’re taking an organ away from somebody else who may need it, especially now as we age longer.”

In 2006, Atala and his colleagues were responsible for hand-growing human bladders in a lab and implanting a difficult internal organ into individuals for the first time, saving the lives of three children.

According to the Health Resources and Services Administration, 17 deaths occur each day while waiting for an organ transplant. According to the organisation, an extra person is added to the queue every 10 minutes. In 2021, more than 90% of those on the transplant waiting list need a kidney transplant.

When bioprinting organs become a viable alternative, patient and carer affordability should not be a concern.

According to a new CDC analysis, patients who require frequent dialysis had higher incidence of staph infections in their blood than persons who do not require these treatments.

They will be "certainly accessible," according to Atala. “The costs associated with organ failures are very high. Just to keep a patient on dialysis is over a quarter of a million dollars per year, just to keep one patient on dialysis. So, it’s a lot cheaper to create an organ that you can implant into the patient.”

According to study released by the American Society of Nephrology, the typical kidney transplant cost $442,500 in 2020 — whereas 3D printers range in price from a few thousand dollars to upwards of $100,000, depending on their sophistication. Despite the availability of low-cost printers, Lewis explained that the most expensive aspects of bioprinting might involve maintaining cell banks for patients, growing cells, and carefully handling biological materials.

The present expenses of organ transplantation include "harvesting the organ from the donor, shipping fees, and then, of course, the procedure that the recipient goes through, as well as all the care and monitoring," according to Lewis. "Even if it was bioprinted, some of that expense would still be involved."


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