The technology of Star Trek is not supposed to be here for another 100+ years. Yet more and more of the technology that is seen in one of the world’s most popular science fiction franchises is becoming reality. We detailed some of this last year in a series of posts, check them out here: Part 1, Part 2, Part 3, Part 4, Part 5. We seem to have reached another and this has the chance to potentially save millions of lives: 3D printed organs.

A 3-D Printed Organ?

3-D printers have been used for a lot of things, from making action figures to even building houses. That is great for inanimate objects but organic material would be a huge leap to boldly go where no one has gone before. That changed in April.

The first step was to use 3-D printing technology to create anything organic. Researchers started with simple tissue, which was done successfully. Obviously creating an organ, especially one as vital as the heart, is a huge leap from there but researchers at Tel Aviv University in Israel have claimed to have successfully printed a heart.

A 3-D Printed Heart

The heart that was printed was about the size of a cherry, or about the size of a rabbit’s heart. A biopsy of fatty tissue of a patient was taken and was used to create the “ink” or hydrogel, which were derived from molecules from the biopsy and mixed with stem cells. Since the patient’s own tissue was taken it should lessen the chance of the body rejecting any implant.

In what is being styled a major medical breakthrough, the heart comes complete with tissue, blood vessels, the ventricles and the chambers. Hearts have been printed before but have not had the tissue or blood vessels.

Addressing Cardiovascular Disease

With cardiovascular diseases claiming hundreds of thousands of lives every year this could potentially save millions of lives as there is a shortage of heart donors. Heart transplant is the only option for patients with end-stage heart failure. Since a donor needs to be dead and to meet other criteria finding a donor is not an easy task and this procedure could be it. Obviously this is many years away from being trialled on a living human but everything has a start. We’ve come a long way since Dr. Christiaan Barnard and his team performed the first heart transplant in South Africa in 1967.

Organ Farms

Gaining a replacement organ is something that has almost become routine today it seems. Of course where those organs come from is not always ethically observed worldwide or even in science fiction. Obviously being able to print your own organs would remove much of the abuse and a breakthrough like this could go a long way towards stemming some human rights abuses in more oppressive regimes. This will be an interesting story to follow in the years to come.

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