Monday, September 19, 2011

Can you print me a new kidney?


Back in July here at chimpwithpencil, we talked about three dimensional printers and the possibilities that arise as they've become cheaper and more widespread.  But this weekend I read a BBC news story by Katia Moskvitch that amazed me.

Here's the problem.  We have sick people who need new organs, so they go on the list to get a donated organ.  Some of these people will die while waiting for that organ, so scientists have been working on growing artificial organs to use instead.  This solution is great except for the problem of capillaries (see picture at top).

Capillaries are tiny blood vessels that connect arterial and venous vessels, and carry nutritious blood back and forth.  Unlike a donor organ, an artificial organ does not come equipped with capillaries, and they are difficult to make because they are very small tubes. 

Scientists at the Fraunhofer Institute in Stuttgart, Germany, have made artificial capillaries with a 3D printer.  The trick to making them involves focusing a laser on the material to give it the needed elasticity-- a process termed two-photon polymerisation. 

The next step for the team at Fraunhofer is to combine the tiny tubes created in the 3D printer with lab-created organs.  If they are successful, they will have replacement organs for the human body with the capillaries necessary to keep them healthy and avoid rejection.

For people all over the world who are currently waiting to receive a donor organ, this research could be life saving.  And as always, I am amazed at the inventive ways people discover to use new technologies.

(The pic is from:  beltina.org)

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