The idea of being able to make functional human organs, instead of waiting for uncertain donations, is not a new one. The demand for organs has always been higher than the supply, and there is the additional obstacle of the receiver’s body rejecting it even when a perfect match has been found. Research has facilitated the beginning of the production of useable organs, which still needs to be refined before functionality will be possible. This would solve two major problems currently involved with organ transplant: the lack of available organs and the possibility of rejection, as each is custom made from the patient’s own cells.
Bioprinting is the name given to this process, and is basically the 3D printing of human tissue. It begins with creating an ink from living human cells, and layering them together to form the tissue. Most bioprinting is currently undertaken by independent laboratories, under carefully monitored conditions. This means that those who would be using the organs do not have the actual facilities to make them. The Queensland University of Technology and the Metro North Hospital and Health Service have formed a partnership in order to change this. This collaboration has set out to establish a ‘biofabrication institute,’ which will be able to undertake all the steps needed to print the patient’s tissue and use it in one place.
The ultimate goal is to be able to produce organs which are transplantable, and having all the experts working in one place will significantly increase the rate of progression. There are three main steps that need to be taken in order to produce an end result: scanning, making a 3D model and engineering human tissue. Opening in 2017, the institute will be located at the Herston Health Precinct and will be able to do all three. It will also contain learning centres and an innovation hub. Bringing together the most knowledgeable persons in the field is essential in producing the best results for patients.
The cost of a transplant would also decrease over time, as the organ is unlikely to be rejected by the body. This means that there will be much less aftercare needed, and the use of antibiotics and metallic implants practically eliminated. The 3D printing of organs is just the beginning, as engineers are hoping to progress to 3D printing of bones and customized prosthetics. The specifics also mean that drugs can be tailored to each patient’s needs. Bioprinting continues to be a source of hope for many, as the need for organs increases daily, and the creation of the institute has given a new lease on life to those that continue waiting.