The Organ Shortage

Aug 14 2012 @ 7:33am

by Zoë Pollock

It's still a problem:

In the United States alone, more than 114,000 people are on transplant lists, waiting for an act of tragedy or charity. Meanwhile, just 14,000 deceased and living donors give up organs for transplants each year. The supply has stagnated despite well-funded attempts to encourage donations, and demand is growing, especially as the organs of a longer-lived population wear out.

The two most promising alternatives are xenotransplantation, the replacement of a human organ with an animal one, or engineering human organs from scratch. Both have hurdles to jump – xenotransplants are often rejected by the patient's immune system and building an organ from scratch usually needs a human or animal scaffold organ to begin with. But now scientists are testing an artificial, synthetic polymer scaffold:

To [Joseph] Vacanti, artificial scaffolds are the future of organ engineering, and the only way in which organs for transplantation could be mass-produced. “You should be able to make them on demand, with low-cost materials and manufacturing technologies,” he says. That is relatively simple for organs like tracheas or bladders, which are just hollow tubes or sacs. Even though it is far more difficult for the lung or liver, which have complicated structures, Vacanti thinks it will be possible to simulate their architecture with computer models, and fabricate them with modern printing technology.

A future with 3D-printed guns, drugs and organs – what else could a girl need?