3D-printed heart

MIRACLES ON DEMAND: from Rx to Organs

Once thought to be in the realm of science fiction, the FDA has already approved the first 3D-printed drug: Spritam®. Using Aprecia Pharmaceuticals’ “ZipDose” technology, coupled with an active ingredient, these aspirin-sized tablets for the treatment of epilepsy disintegrate within a few seconds after taking a sip of water – enabling patients who struggle to swallow pills to get them down. Big Pharma is also using 3D-printed tissue as an effective means of testing new pharmaceuticals, so they can be thoroughly assessed and brought to market more rapidly, without harming animal test subjects.

In a recent TechCrunch article, Avi Reichental, founder and CEO of XponentialWorks, detailed how 3D printing is already making a huge difference for patients needing customized prosthetics and exoskeletons, and skin is being 3D printed to treat burn victims, while in pharmacology, a 3D-printed “Polypill” that houses multiple drugs at once – each with a different release time – is already showing promise.

But, the biggest life changer of all is the prospect of printing organs on demand. Just as in 3D printing itself, which “builds” an object by printing layer-on-layer of plastic, metal, concrete, etc. into a final product (be it a rare engine part or a printed house), as Reichental explains, bioprinting is “harnessing this technology and building tiny organs, or ‘organoids,’ using the same techniques, but with stem cells as the production material. These organoids, once built, will in the future be able to grow inside the body of a sick patient and take over when an organic organ, such as a kidney or liver, fails.”

According to Wikipedia, modified inkjet printers have been used to produce three-dimensional biological tissue, in which printer cartridges are filled with a suspension of living cells and a smart gel (which is used to provide structure). Using a standard print nozzle, alternating patterns of the smart gel and living cells are printed, with cells
eventually fusing together to form tissue. Later, when the tissue is completed, the gel is washed away, leaving behind only live cells. As long ago as 2013, Organovo produced a human liver using 3D bioprinting. While not yet suitable for transplantation, it’s already being used as a medium for drug testing.

While we’re probably several years away from 3D-printed organs replacing their owners “original equipment,” already doctors are 3D printing models of organs to help them in performing complex organ transplant surgeries, including modeling the intricate procedure of transplanting her father’s adult kidney into 3-year-old Lucy in the Guys and St Thomas’ Hospital in London, and for a young mother in Belfast, whose father also willingly donated his kidney to save his daughter’s life. The problem was dad’s donor kidney had a potentially cancerous cyst on it. However, by using a 3D-printed replica model, the surgical team could plan and prepare for the surgery to remove the cyst and transplant the kidney. Both transplants were successful. These life-saving uses of 3D printing are clearly taking us one giant step closer to the Holy Grail of 3D Printing: Organs on Demand.

Mimi Grant, President, Adaptive Business Leaders (ABL) Organization – Round Tables and Events for CEOs of Healthcare and Technology Companies

PHOTO CREDIT: extremetech.com