Regenerative medicine: Printed parts for a broken heart

If you needed a kidney, who’s the best person in the world to donate that kidney to you? Your brother? Your sister? Your child? If I told you this was a trick question, you might guess the answer is you. Of all the people in the world, you are the only donor guaranteed to cause no problems with tissue rejection.

By why donate an organ to yourself if it’s already in the right place? Anthony Atala knows the answer.

Here’s the short answer. Let’s say your bladder is diseased or broken (sorry). If you give Atala one little chicklet chunk sliced from the healthy side, he’ll pop it in a Magic Grow oven and make you a new one (Please select one of the following: small, medium, large, or extra large. Allow 6-8 weeks for delivery). Then, like a sea turtle release program, a surgeon will introduce your new bespoke bladder to its natural environment: you. It sounds like science fiction, but he’s been doing this successfully for ten years.

I knew this much, but the images are compelling, and I was surprised by how much farther they’ve gotten in the last few years. In their experimental (non-clinical) work, they’re building highly vascularized organs like the liver. They’re using ink-jet printers to make simple hearts. Watch the video. It’s really mind-boggling. By the time I got to the end of it, I was convinced that Bill Gates must have backups of all his organs in three different redundant facilities. Maybe it’ll be cheap enough for me to do that too some day.

Bonus footnote: I grew up in the shadow of Wake Forest University, so I take hometown pride in pointing out that the leading edge of regenerative medicine is happening at the Wake Forest Institute for Regenerative Medicine.

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