The ‘Select Biosciences Tissue Engineering & Bioprinting’ conference was held in Boston in March. A coming together of some of science’s most distinguished minds, there was a particular subject that everybody was dying to ask Gabor Forgacs, Professor of Biological Physics at the University of Missouri-Columbia, about.
The emergence of 3D printing has thrown up the possibility that we could see technology help with organ transplants. Using the patient’s own DNA, it would allow doctors to bypass the risks that come when someone’s immune system rejects a new organ.
Although this is a considerable issue with the current system, it’s the long waiting list which often puts people at the most risk. In 1988 there was a waiting list of 15,029 for an organ transplant, by 2012 this had risen to 117,040. For example, the average waiting time for someone needing a kidney can be as much as 10 years.
Whilst it remains a possibility, Forgacs was keen to remind the audience that we’re some way away from realising this. At the moment Forgacs was keen to accentuate that there are still some considerable hurdles facing researchers. For example, printing blood vessels which are capable of supplying organs with essential nutrients has yet to be achieved.
It was clear that Forgacs remains unconvinced about whether we’ll ever be able to produce artificial replicas of our organs. However, he does feel that this is not necessarily important. He says, ‘There’s no reason we can’t make something that functions exactly the same, if not better, than the natural organ’.
Although he predicts that it’s going to take at least a couple of decades for a new, improved heart to be conceived, he remains excited by the fact that it’s a possibility. Likely to involve a number of scientists working across numerous disciplines, it’s going to be a long process, but one that could save thousands of lives. Whilst it remains unlikely that we’re going to see 3D printers create identical organs, it could do the next best thing, which in this case may actually be better anyway.