Is there anything 3D printers can’t do? Last year, we found out about how 3-D printers may be used to print food for space travelers. Now there’s technology that enables 3-D printers to print human organs.
The California company, Organovo, has printed the world's first human livers. According to the inhabitat.com article, Organovo 3-D Prints the World's First Tiny Human Livers, the livers are tiny - a half a millimeter by four millimeters wide. Using its proprietary bio-printing technology, Organovo prints 3-D liver tissue that contains two types of liver cells. If blood vessel lining cells are added to the ink, the printed tissue contains a network of blood vessels as well. The printed liver tissue has been able to live in a petri dish for 40 days.
The company is planning to create a real human liver by the end of 2014. The liver won’t be viable for transplants in people. But it could be an extremely effective tool for scientific research and drug testing. 3D-printed organs could provide a much less expensive and more humane alternative to current research and testing conducted on animals. For more information on this technology, see http://www.organovo.com.
The inhabitat.com article, Chinese Scientists Successfully Produce a Living Kidney Using a 3D Printer, describes how Chinese scientists at Huazhong University of Science and Technology in the eastern Zhejiang province are using 3-D printing to create tiny kidneys. The printer “ink” is made of hydrogel cells. The printer uses the hydrogel ink to print kidneys.
Ninety percent of the printed cells are alive. Although these organs can carry out the same functions as real human kidneys, they have no blood vessels or nerves, and consist of cells that can only live for up to four months. The printed kidneys won’t provide a permanent solution for patients, but in 10 to 15 years, when they are expected to be available for transplants, they could buy patients’ time until a human kidney becomes available.