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Every day, an average of 18 people die waiting for an organ donation. The growing transplant wait list was 121,272 people long in 2013.
A potential solution is 3D printed organs. They’re not a reality quite yet, but laboratories are already busy 3D printing living tissue. Industry leader Organovo and Yale’s schools of medicine and engineering announced a partnership this week that will focus specifically on research into printing transplantable tissue, and we may see some working applications very soon.
A benefit of 3D printing organs is that they can be made from a patient’s own cells, which reduces the chances their body will reject an organ. Organovo’s 3D printers are actually pretty similar to an inkjet printer you might find on a desktop; instead of ink, they are loaded with living cells that are then printed layer by layer.
In the short term, Organovo and Yale might develop organs that assist a failing organ instead of replacing it altogether. Patients would then have a greater chance of surviving until a donated organ becomes available to them.
The two might also develop transplantable blood vessels, lung tissue and bone. Organovo has already printed experimental versions of all three.
Organovo began selling 3D printed tissue commercially just last month. Its first product is small pieces of liver tissue made for drug toxicity testing.