At this point, everyone has heard of the technological phenomena that is 3D printing. Forget action figures, basketballs or guns though, the future is here: the newest development in 3D printing technology is actually the technology to create living human kidneys from a 3D printer.
That’s right, actual organs. Although the prototypes are still only a fraction of the size needed to power a human body, the implications of this breakthrough are huge. If a life-sized kidney can eventually be made, patients waiting for transplants will no longer have to spend months and even years waiting to find a suitable donor.
Dramatically different from printing a handgun or a violin, the technology required to print a functioning human kidney requires a mass amount of kidney cells cultured in a gel-like nutritional substance called hydrogel, which acts as a base for the 3D printed model.
At current levels of the technology, the mini-kidneys produced can survive up to four months in this substance. According to Xu Mingen, a researcher and professor at Huazhong University of Science and Technology in Zhejiang Province:
It’s different from traditional 3D printing–to print a cup, we have to fill up the object with our material. But such methods don’t work in cells because a cell contains blood vessels and has tissue space. We have to leave enough space for them to grow.
Xu believes there is “huge market potential” for the discovery.
Although we may not see a life-size, functioning, 3D printed kidney for many years to come, the breakthrough in creating live organs through a method such as this is definitely something to keep on the radar.