Three-dimensional printing has been used to make everything from pizza to prostheses, and now researchers are working on using the emerging technology to fabricate hearts, kidneys, and other vital human organs.
That would be very big news, as the number of people who desperately need an organ transplant far outstrips the number of donor organs available. On average, about 21 Americans die every day because a needed organ was unavailable.
What exactly is the promise of 3D printing organs and tissues, or “bioprinting?” How does the technology work, and when might it start saving lives?
For answers to these and other questions, HuffPost Science reached out to Dr. Anthony Atala (right), director of the Wake Forest Institute for Regenerative Medicine and a world-renowned expert in the field, to find out.
What are the next steps?
One relatively new bioprinting project, funded by the Defense Threat Reduction Agency, aims to print mini hearts, livers, blood vessels, and lung on a chip system. Called a “Body on a Chip,” this project has the potential to test new drugs more accurately and perhaps eliminate the need for testing in animals. The immediate goal is to test effects on the body of biological weapons and to develop antidotes.
To learn more about regenerative medicine and Dr. Atala’s vision for 3D printing organs, check out his 2011 TEDTalk below.