3D Organ Printing that Might One Day Save Your Life

Mark Burback | Health, Underwriting | 24 Sep, 2015 | No Comments

On any given day in the United States, more than 123,000 people wait for donor organs that have the potential to save their lives. This number increases every 10 minutes when the name of a new critically ill patient joins the existing nationwide waiting list. The need is so great and the supply so small that 21 people die every day because they don’t receive a life-saving organ in time to beat their chronic illness. Although approximately 90 percent of adults are aware of organ and tissue donation, less than one-third understand the steps they need to take in order to be an organ or tissue donor.

Most insurers would likely deny coverage to applicants seeking life insurance who have need any type or organ transplant, have congenital heart conditions, or suffer from heart disease. In some cases applicants will be eligible for life insurance, but will have to pay extremely high premiums. The lack of available donors and the high mortality rates for applicants awaiting transplants forces many underwriting policies to deny coverage.

Another thing most people are not aware of is that one donated organ can potentially save up to eight lives. That makes the lack of organ donation all the more tragic. However, this may prove to be less of an obstacle to saving lives in the future, thanks to a new technology that may make it possible to print fully functional artificial replacement organs by using 3D printing technology. Research and development on 3D organ printing began in 2013.

Printing Artificial Organs: From a Concept to Reality

In order to successfully design and print a 3D replacement organ, researchers first had to invest in Tissue Structure Information Modeling (TISM) software as well as a printer with six axes and the ability to print in 3D. With TSIM and the proper printer in place, biologists and scientists have the ability to create models in biological 3D format. This technology allows program developers to important medical data unique to each patient, such as the results of MRI and CT scans, so they can build a realistic model before printing the actual replacement organ.

One of the major benefits of using TISM software is that it gives scientists the ability to continuously create and improve tissue-engineering capabilities that ultimately leads to the assembly of biological material and fully functional tissue structure. Eventually, each of these systematic procedures led to the ability to print an entire replacement organ. When the scientist is ready to take this step, he or she powers on the six-axis 3D printer called BioAssemblyBot and prints the human tissue structures that will be a part of the new organ.

Why Existing Technology Would Not Work

3D additive printing, which was used in many types of medical procedures prior to the development of 3D printed organs, was incapable of meeting the demands of such a complex process. Biological structures that included living cells often including unusual or extremely exacting data that could not be replicated using 3D additive printing. Fortunately, TISM and the six-axis printer eliminated this problem by using an early prototype of MakerBot 3D, AutoDesk AutoCAD, and Autodesk Inventor Professional. The new design provides incredible flexibility in addition to reducing the time of production of new cell structure development from approximately four months to one hour.

With fully functioning replacement human organs expected to be widely available in the next several years, the makers of TISM and the six-axis printer hope to drastically reduce the rate of people who die every day while on an organ transplant list. Should the technology become commercially viable, the impact might be significant on underwriting guidelines for life insurance providers, as life expectancy would certainly extend for many applicants awaiting transplants for heart conditions and other medical issues today.

[Image Credit: hywards / 123RF Stock Photo]

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