Printing Parts

I recently watched a TED talk by Anthony Atala, the director of the Wake Forest Institute of Regenerative Medicine. According to him, we have a pretty big issue on our hands: the demand of organs and the lack of supply. Rather than focusing on having a shortage of crops, a shortage of sustainable fuels, or a shortage of technology, Atala focuses on our shortage of organs. He states that in the last ten years, there has been a double of demand for organs; yet, the number of transplants has stayed stagnant. And thus, he presents a new frontier of technology in regenerative medicine! We have become capable of growing our own organs.

A bit like CHIA pets!




What Atala presents is fascinated. He shows us what we may be using on a daily basis in a hospital clinic to combat the issue of lack of usable organs for those who are in need of it.

Currently, we’ve become accustomed to utilizing different biomaterials as scaffolds to attach living stem cells and watch an organ naturally form. Cue cellular cotton candy machine!

Tube formed by this "cotton candy" spray machine!

Tube formed by this “cotton candy” spray machine!

Fascinating, beautiful, and usable. And even better, we’ve reached a new threshold however. Something that literally blew my bind (like literally, mind = blown = mind in air = mind is gone)…

This new technology is the act of printing new organs. YES PRINTING. You thought printing a nicely written poem or a few pictures was cool, or most likely have simply print on a daily basis and thus is nothing of amazingness to you. BUT, how ‘bout if we print a new stomach? Or a new kidney? Is that something less mundane than a regular printer.

printer Looks normal doesn’t it?

What happens is that a printer sprays on the appropriate cells that form an organ. The print head literally goes back and forth, spraying the cells and “printing” out this structure. Then a 3D elevator goes down one layer at a time after each time the printhead goes back and forth. Thus, a structure is formed! Like this one

printed structure

printed structure

Atala has performed some successful work on bladders. In this case, a small piece of the patient’s own bladder is grown outside the body (in vitro) and used to coat a scaffold. This is then placed in an oven at human like conditions: 37 degrees C and 95% oxygen! Here’s a picture of the bladder.




Believe it or not, but this can be implanted back into the patient, assimilated well because it is the patient’s own cells, and have it functioning.

The next level following this is the use of printers not just to make new organs but also to print things ON the patients. Here’s a diagram:

Printing on Patients

Printing on Patients

For wounds that need dramatic formation, Atala and his team of regenerative medicine researchers, the printer is the way to go. First, a scanner first scans the wound on the patient and then it comes back with the printheads actually printing out new layers that are needed by that individual patient.

Filing wound with the right cells!

Filing wound with the right cells!

The biggest challenge: the solid organs, ones that need multiple blood vessels and the such.

But I have a feeling that challenge can be overcome.

Here’s a successfully printed kidney:

Printed kidney!

Printed kidney!


Hopefully soon organs won’t be an endangered species.


PS, here’s the awesome TED talk! Enjoy!

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3 Responses to Printing Parts

  1. Ryan Ivins says:

    Also worth following: 3D printing isn’t limited to the organ manufacturing industry — there are also technologies in the works for printing guns (predictable) and even drugs. Each sector is complex and interesting.

  2. Steven Weiss says:

    That is fascinating. I can’t even begin to imagine the changes this technology could make in medicine. I wonder if they’ll be able to do pancreases.

  3. May says:

    “Like, literally….mind = blown = mind in air = mind is gone”…yeahhh, sounds about right. Once again, your post has managed to amaze me. I mean, like, PRINTING organs?! Whaaaat?!!! That’s awesome! And weird, but mostly awesome! I’m always fascinated when I learn about such bizarre methods that *actually work,* just because such an “out there” idea usually is considered to be more amusing than it is intriguing. Great post! 😀

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