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World's first 3D printed breathing organ could help end the organ shortage

By mongeese · 15 replies
May 4, 2019
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  1. For the last several years, researchers have been unable to construct an organ’s vascular network with the strength or complexity needed. Previous attempts at a complex system have popped on the first ‘breath,’ while simpler and stronger systems can’t get enough oxygen and nutrients around. A team of researchers from Rice University have developed a bioprinting method that lets them dial up the complexity while maintaining strength, letting organs breathe, so to speak.

    As proof of concept they printed a penny-sized part of a lung that could inject oxygen from the surrounding environment into the de-oxygenated blood that flowed through it. Their method could be scaled up one day to construct an entire lung or further developed into other organs, and it could even be made using some of a patient’s own cells to prevent organ rejection.

    In a front-page article in Science, they explain how they did it: hydrogel and food dye.

    Building on an open-source bioprinting technique called stereolithography apparatus for tissue engineering, the scientists 3D printed the vascular network layer by layer out of a new type of light-sensitive hydrogel (a material with similar conditions to the body). The hydrogel is incredibly special because it accepts a wide variety of cells that are embedded into it, and because it hardens in the presence of blue light, allowing each layer to be molded then solidified.

    “Our organs actually contain independent vascular networks - like the airways and blood vessels of the lung or the bile ducts and blood vessels in the liver. These interpenetrating networks are physically and biochemically entangled, and the architecture itself is intimately related to tissue function,” said Dr. Jordan Miller, the study’s leader.

    A challenge arose when the light shone on a new layer would affect the layers beneath it – a consequence of the transparency of the hydrogel. When considering potential opaque liquids that were biocompatible, there was an obvious solution: yellow food dye. The dye blocks enough of the light in hardened hydrogel without hindering the process in the liquid hydrogel, letting the researchers increase the fidelity of the printing. There’s still a way to go, however.

    "Our smallest features are still around 0.3 mm (0.013 inches) in diameter. That is still two orders of magnitude larger than the size of a typical cell in the body. So we'd like to continue improving our patterning resolution. We think this is possible with continued innovations in both the printing method and materials,” the study’s co-author Kelly Stevens told Newsweek.

    The obvious long-term goal of the research is to bioprint fully functioning organs, but a stop-gap measure to solve the organ shortage might be stop-gap organs. With the average waiting time for an organ being 3.6 years, synthetic organs with shorter lifespans might be given to patients until a real organ or a long-term synthetic organ can be sourced.

    The timeline is two decades, and for the hundreds of thousands of people that will need an organ transplant in that period, I wish all current and future researchers good luck.

    Permalink to story.

  2. Uncle Al

    Uncle Al TS Evangelist Posts: 5,308   +3,715

    Sadly, one heck of a lot of people awaiting a transplant won't be alive in two decades and when you consider the mandatory FDA trials before approval it could very well be closer to three decades. The single biggest advancement that is possible TODAY is to make the pharmaceutical companies slash their prices to an affordable level and enact regulations that keep those prices that way.
  3. p51d007

    p51d007 TS Evangelist Posts: 1,945   +1,211

    Even if not permanent, it could allow a person to survive long enough to be able to get a permanent transplant
  4. Skjorn

    Skjorn TS Maniac Posts: 333   +183

    As great as that would be we all know politicians are easily bought and the companies have plenty of cash to spend.
  5. noel24

    noel24 TS Evangelist Posts: 507   +439

    In that case, I'm waiting for my new potential liver than.
  6. elementalSG

    elementalSG TS Booster Posts: 109   +90

    Wow, this is probably the most amazing use of 3D printing I have read about so far! I wish the researchers the best of luck!
  7. Evernessince

    Evernessince TS Evangelist Posts: 3,917   +3,367

    So what's stopping them from making performance organs that perform better then what you had before? Why bother doing cardio if you can have a heart 3 times as strong as usain bolt?
  8. QuantumPhysics

    QuantumPhysics TS Evangelist Posts: 1,184   +859

    Darwinism I think
  9. Plutoisaplanet

    Plutoisaplanet TS Booster Posts: 92   +71

    @mongeese An 85% success rate doesn’t sound impossible to me. Perhaps you meant over nine in ten people will die before getting a transplant?
  10. Knot Schure

    Knot Schure TS Addict Posts: 254   +110

    Health tourism. Hello from Thailand.
  11. Knot Schure

    Knot Schure TS Addict Posts: 254   +110

  12. misor

    misor TS Evangelist Posts: 1,397   +303

    In before: pirates will 'pirate' the idea and create their own 3d printed organs.
  13. SolarisGuru

    SolarisGuru TS Member Posts: 18   +19

    Makes me thing of that movie Elysium where the poor people on Earth struggle to get to the mega elitist colony (Elysium) in orbit to use their healing machines.
  14. petert

    petert TS Evangelist Posts: 359   +157

    A typical 3D resin printer can go as low as 50um, I guess the 0.3 mm resolution is imposed by the material they work with (hydrogel). One can buy a 3D resin printer for less than $500, can't print in hydrogel though. As a 3D printing enthusiast I am glad it is evolving and that people find new uses for 3D printing every day.
  15. Bp968

    Bp968 TS Booster Posts: 96   +77

    Statistics are too easy to manipulate. Those numbers hide many relevant details. I believe the US has some of the highest organ donation rates in the world. We also transplant more than anywhere else. Many of the deaths are patients who decline far too quickly to assist (or getting a transplant would be a short time giver but not a life saver).

    That said the biggest improvement behind this type of thing is being able to transplant using the patients own cells. No rejection medication is huge. I'll eventually need a liver transplant thanks to (what they guess) is a genetic condition. Avoiding rejection drugs would be amazing.
  16. Markoni35

    Markoni35 TS Booster Posts: 149   +71

    Don't hold your breath (pun intended). It won't happen. Not in the next 100 years. Not because it's impossible. You don't even need 3D printing. In-vitro grown organs exist for decades. Bladder, liver, pancreas, heart, all that can already be produced. And has been produced. And implanted. With excellent results.

    So... why don't you see that tech in a hospital near you? Because the medical mafia simply don't want regenerative medicine. Because this current medicine, which I call "symptom-hiding" medicine, is a lot more profitable.

    Yes, scientists will show off with their discoveries in media. Including the above article. But you'll never really see that invention applied. Unless maybe you're the biggest stockholder of Amazon, Microsoft, IKEA, Zara, oil industry, banking or insurance. Then yeah... you'll probably have access to that tech. But ordinary people won't even know it's possible. For ordinary cattle you have this ordinary medicine. And it's not because of its price. Regenerative medicine can be really cheap. That's its main problem (if you're in medical business).

    If you think I'm exaggerating, let me just remind you that a cheap tissue regeneration method exists for around 80 years, based on extracellular matrix. And it's still not available to you. Nor will it ever be.

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