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How Yale's 3D Printing Venture Could Solve the Organ Donor Problem

Dec 10, 2014

It may sound like a bit of science fiction, but 3D bioprinting has been around for seven years.

Worldwide, the number and quality of vital organ donors has decreased. Yale University has announced a new venture with a 3D biology company to develop 3D-printed tissue and organs.

So, how do you build a new liver or kidney using a 3D printer?

Dr. John Geibel, vice chair and director of surgical research at Yale School of Medicine, said to think of your old inkjet printer. "In this case, the cartridges are filled with either cellular material, or some of these gel-like, matrigel, hydragel materials that is going to be the jelly-like foundation that holds the cells in place while the organ is being printed."

Geibel said the gel acts as scaffolding, or the frame of a house, a place where the cells grow into a new organ.

It may sound like a bit of science fiction, but 3D bioprinting has been around for seven years. While transplant-ready, 3D-printed organs may be years off, the technology has already yielded various transplantable tissue and vascular grafts.

Geibel said that when the technology is up and running, 3D-printed organ transplants will be better than donor transplants. "Not only that it's going to provide organs," he said, "it's going to provide organs that are coming from cellular material from the individual. Then many of these immunotoxicity drugs that have to go along with the transplant -- which can have serious side effects -- will fall by the wayside."

Yale School of Medicine's Department of Surgery and the School of Engineering and Applied Science will work together with Organovo, a 3D biology company that already has printed a small, fully-functional liver for the purpose of pharmaceutical testing.