It isn’t everyday that people have organs printed off and then transplanted, although that could soon become the case. Wake Forest Baptist Medical Center have created the Integrated Tissue and Organ Printing System (ITOP) which prints alternating layers of biodegradable plastic micro-channels work as channels for nutrients to pass through, and a water based ink to help promote the growth of encapsulated cells. So in plain terms, it can print functional living tissue, the kind that can grow and sprout new systems of blood vessels in a living organism. The group has done just that, the director of the institute, Dr. Anthon Atala stated that “We make ears the size of baby ears. We make jawbones the size of human jawbones, we are printing all kinds of things.” The group has begun implanting bone and tissue samples into mice, and other animals, which then matured into functional tissue, which could feasibly be implemented into people.
According to the United Network for Organ Sharing, over 121,000 Americans are currently on the waiting list for an organ transplant. The IOTP has the potential to eliminate that completely, creating a market where one would imply have their organs custom printed. A market where rejection became a thing of the past as each piece would be custom designed to fit each person. Notably, they are still years away from that kind of an accomplishment, but it has been five months since the 3D printed parts were implemented into the rats, and the tissue is still functioning well inside their bodies. This opens up whole new avenues for the industry, and most experts think that it is no longer a matter of ‘if’ 3D printing could replace a fully functional organ, but when.