It might sound like science fiction, but in reality 3-D printed organs may soon be a viable alternative to transplanted human organs. A research team at Carnegie Mellon University released a report on these three-dimensional possibilities in late October 2015, published in “Science Advances.”
Carnegie Mellon’s research team utilized a consumer-grade 3-D printers and open source software to begin creating soft tissue models. Medicine and science have worked together in the past to create other 3-D printed implants used in surgery such as bone plates, but until now, soft tissue creation had not been widely researched, let alone developed.
In the past, the difficulty with trying to create three-dimensional models of soft tissue was that the soft structures collapsed upon themselves, explained Adam Feinberg, lead study author and an associate professor of materials science and engineering at Carnegie Mellon. 3-D printing of tissue in air was the problem. The research team developed a method to 3-D print soft material by printing with a gel inside another supportive gel shell.
Once the organ or structure has been successfully printed, the outer gel shell is melted away, leaving the desired object intact. Thus far in testing human brains, embryonic hearts and branched coronary arteries have been created.
The heart is one of the organs on which this research team has focused, having successfully created a 3-D model. Research is ongoing as to how to inject living cardiac cells into this model as a skeleton for growing a heart in-lab.
In keeping with the goals of sharing their research findings, the team will make available via open source license their designs for these 3-D models.
Imagine the potential for saving lives from organ transplant alone. According to the U.S. Government’s organ donor site, an average of 79 people per day receive some type of organ transplant, while approximately 22 people die each day waiting for transplants that aren’t available for them. On average, a person is added to the waiting list for an organ every 10 minutes of every day.
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