To solve the supply shortage, San Francisco-based startup Prellis is working on building human organs using a unique 3D printing technology. If a patient needed a new liver, for example, doctors would take a biopsy from his or her existing liver, and the Prellis scientists would harvest those liver cells and cultivate them, allowing them to multiply until there were enough to create a new organ. Then the scientists would embed those cells into a collagen-based goo, and use a laser light to shape the mixture into a liver.
This new technology has the added benefit of improving overall outcomes post-surgery:
And unlike with traditional organ donation, there’s no danger of a patient rejecting one of Prellis’ organs, because the organ is made from the patient’s own cells. That means there’s no need for the patient to take immunosuppressant drugs for the rest of his or her life.
When can we expect 3D printed organs to become available?
Mullin and Matheu estimate they’ll be ready to print their first human organ in the next four to six years. In the meantime, they’re showcasing their technology by printing less complicated tissues. The scientists already have made working lymph nodes, which have successfully produced antibodies that Prellis can market to drug companies.