If you’re thinking technology from your favorite SciFi adventures might be far away, think again. A San Diego-based company called Organovo plans to market an inkjet printer that prints out actual human organs. The technology was conceptualized two years ago, but Organovo plans to commercially release its first production models to research facilities within 2010.
The printer produces organs by layering cells on a two-dimensional pattern, therefore forming a three-dimensional output. The concept is similar to a laser printer spraying layers of solid particles on paper. But instead of spraying ink or toner powder, the machine actually sprays layers of stem cells and hydrogel.
Initially, the machine will be able to “print” arteries meant for heart bypass surgeries. However, the goal is to be able to produce full-fledged organ replacements, such as livers, kidneys, and the like. Tissues-on-demand would definitely help the medical community and patients alike, as this would obviate the need to wait in line for compatible organ or tissue donors, which can sometimes take years and years. In contrast, Organovo’s technology can finish producing an organ within an hour, and the cells would then fuse together on their own within two days.
The technology for creating human tissues and organs is not likely meant for the consumer market. But this could be a precedence for more interesting things to come. Someday, we might be able to fabricate our own gadgets with the help of 3D printers. Oh, the possibilities!