3D bioprinting is, needless to say, great cause for excitement. Usually, most people’s minds go immediately to one idea: the idea that in the future, we may be able to 3D print working human organs that can actually be transplanted into patients, saving their lives without requiring a donated organ from another person. It’s understandable that people are excited about that prospect; 3D bioprinted organs potentially carry tremendous advantages. People could receive lifesaving organ transplants right away, without having to wait for a donor match, eliminating the years-long wait lists as well as the guilt that comes from benefiting from the death of another person. In addition, the idea is that 3D printed organs are formed from the patient’s own stem cells, eliminating the risk of rejection and the need for immunosuppressive drugs.
In reality, we probably won’t see 3D printed, transplantable human organs for several years yet. 3D printing an organ is more than just 3D printing layers of cells into the shape of a kidney or liver; those organs must be able to carry out all of the distinct functions of their natural counterparts, and they have to be capable of integrating with the body’s existing systems, which involves the development of nerves and blood vessels. Progress is being made in the development of 3D printed blood vessel networks, and the advancement that scientists have made over the last couple of years towards 3D printed organs really is remarkable, with working thyroid glands and ovariesbeing transplanted into mice, for example.