In what seems like science fiction, Dr. Anthony Atala, a regenerative medicine specialist at Wake Forest University, is pioneering the use of printing techniques to reconstruct and repair human flesh and organs. His basis is a combination of cultured human cells and scaffolding built or woven from organic material.
Dr. Atala explains that if successful this technique could make use of a printer that adds just the right types of tissues back on at the right depth in a wound. “You can print right on the patient… I know it sounds funny, but it’s true,” he said. The task next is to develop the 3-D printers to rebuild human organs. Ninety percent of patients on the organ donation list are waiting for kidneys. This technique would scan the patient with a CT scanner, then use 3-D imaging techniques to create a computerized form that the printer can read, and finally build the organ layer by layer. Printing a new kidney currently takes about six hours, and once the technology is perfected, it will last for a lifetime. For making the kidneys patients’ own stem cells are the first candidates for developing an organ; if not available, however, scientists prefer to use donated stem cells derived from placenta or amniotic fluid that would less likely be rejected or make tumors.
Dr. Atala spoke at the 2011 Technology, Entertainment, Design (TED) conference in the California city of Long Beach.