Healthcare Technology Featured Article

December 02, 2013

Could 3D Printed Kidneys Be Part Of Medicine's Future?

It was nearly two years ago when Anthony Atala, a surgeon with Wake Forest, took to a TED stage to fire up a 3D printer and create, live on stage, a working human kidney. Since then—and even somewhat before then—the 3D printer has distinguished itself in terms of making everything from keychains to handguns to even prosthetic devices. A Chinese university, meanwhile, has provided a bit more insight on just how these little dynamos might work with a new set of 3D printed kidneys that are showing some impressive promise.

The Chinese research in question created a set of 3D printed kidneys in miniature, using a set of cells that can live for up to four months. Said kidneys performed the same function as the natural variety did, including breaking down toxic matter, and this allowed for some hope on the researchers part that one day these replacement kidneys could be put into a human body as a viable replacement for the current versions.

Lead researcher Xu Mingen explained that 3D printing like this differed from the traditional variety of 3D printing in that more factors needed to be considered in order to make it successful. After all, Xu pointed out, cells contained blood vessels, and had tissue space, which means that the 3D printing job needs to leave in room to grow, a factor that can be difficult to engineer. But there's certainly plenty of impetus for such a thing to take place, as less than one percent of those looking to get organ transplants in China can actually get said transplants. While the rates are certainly better in the rest of the world, there are still plenty who go without.

Indeed, the case in China is more readily illustrated by a 2012 story in which a Chinese 17 year old sold a kidney for enough money to buy an iPhone and an iPad. At last report, there was a fairly brisk trade in black market organs in China that leads to stories just like this one, and that makes a market that is absolutely perfect for such a development to swing in. Though it's certainly not ready for prime time as yet, there's every possibility that such a development will be ready before much longer has passed, and that's a development that's going to spawn plenty of changes in the way we do most everything throughout the world. With such a development, people would likely live much longer lives, as more of the 99 percent of Chinese patients—not to mention those of the rest of the world—would have easier access to replacement organs. That in turn would lower death rates and keep more people around longer, a development which itself has both good and bad sides to it particularly in terms of resource use.

Still, for those whose lives are saved, as well as those folks' loved ones, it's a development that can't come too soon. It may not be that far away, and when it arrives, it will change the world as we know it.

Edited by Cassandra Tucker

FREE eNewsletter

Click here to receive your targeted Healthcare Technology Community eNewsletter.
[Subscribe Now]