Next Step in 3-D Printing: Your Kidneys

cross section of kidneys

Dr. Anthony Atala, a regenerative medicine specialist at Wake Forest University, is pioneering the use of printing techniques to reconstruct and repair human flesh and organs. The basis is a combination of cultured human cells and scaffolding built or woven from organic material.

In one staggering setup, a patient lies on a table and a flatbed scanner literally scans her wound, followed by a printer that adds just the right types of tissues back on at the right depth. “You can print right on the patient,” Dr. Atala told the TED audience on Thursday. “I know it sounds funny, but it’s true.”

The next evolving step is the use of 3-D printers, which I wrote about on Tuesday, to rebuild human organs. Ninety percent of patients on the organ donation list are waiting for kidneys, a fist-size organ with a profusion of tiny blood vessels. To build a customized kidney, first you scan the patient with a CT scanner, then use 3-D imaging techniques to create a computerized form that the printer can read, and finally build the organ layer by layer. Printing a new kidney currently takes about six hours, and once the technology is perfected, it will last for a lifetime--a young man, Luke Masella, came out on stage who had similar surgery to his bladder 10 years ago.

This post has been corrected--it previously implied that Masella had had his kidney replaced.

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2 Comments

  • David J Undis

    Your story about 3-D Printing Your Kidneys, and Organ Donation, highlighted the tragic shortage of human organs for transplant operations.

    There are now over 110,000 people on the National Transplant Waiting List, with over 50% of these people dying before they get a transplant. Most of these deaths are needless. Americans bury or cremate 20,000 transplantable organs every year.

    There is a simple way to put a big dent in the organ shortage – give donated organs first to people who have agreed to donate their own organs when they die.

    Giving organs first to organ donors will convince more people to register as organ donors. It will also make the organ allocation system fairer. Everyone who is willing to receive should be willing to give.

    Anyone who wants to donate their organs to others who have agreed to donate theirs can join LifeSharers. LifeSharers is a non-profit network of organ donors who agree to offer their organs first to other organ donors when they die. Membership is free at www.lifesharers.org or by calling
    1-888-ORGAN88. There is no age limit, parents can enroll their minor children, and no one is excluded due to any pre-existing medical condition. LifeSharers has over 14,500 members as of this writing.

    Please contact me - Dave Undis, Executive Director of LifeSharers - if your readers would like to learn more about our innovative approach to increasing the number of organ donors. I can arrange interviews with some of our local members if you're interested. My email address is daveundis@lifesharers.org. My phone number is 615-351-8622.