The reality of organ transplants has made the process an ordeal for the thousands of people who have been unfortunate enough to need them. Some sobering details:
- On average, 22 people die everyday while waiting for an organ.
- In order to get an organ transplant, a person's blood type, tissue type, and other factors all have to match up, leading some to have to wait longer than others.
- Over 119,000 people are currently on the organ transplant list.
- Only about 80 people per day receive a transplant.
- While 95% of adults agree with organ transplants, only 48% have registered to donate.
While the situation might seem discouraging, there is finally some hope on the horizon.
The ITOP System
ITOP stands for Integrated Tissue and Organ Printing. Researchers at Wake Forest Baptist Medical Center have used 3D printing to make an ear, muscle structures, and bone which they have transplanted into animals. These transplants have grown into fully developed tissue, created their own blood vessel systems, and gained in strength and size, proving the system can work.
A technique called decellularization is being used to create living, transplantable organs. This technique is the process of removing cells from the organ until only a basic structure remains. Stem cells from the patient are then transferred to the structure and reprogrammed to create new tissue, replacing what was washed away. This new tissue makes the organ less likely to be rejected by the patient's immune system. This can be done with organs obtained from humans or pigs.
Modern 3D printers work by producing a large amount of heat or pressure, both of which could kill the organs they were printing. However, the 3D-Bioplotter, currently in use for research purposes at the University of Texas San Antonio, can print in bio-ink to create cells and tissue. According to Dr. Teja Guda, the ability to create organs for transplant patients with this machine is about a decade away.
The horizon now glimmers with technological hope that previous generations didn't have. Medical science could soon make organ transplants a marker in history as organ replacements become common and successful.