One of the most ambitious uses of 3D printers today is the creation of working organs. Researchers have already come a long way in making organ tissue with 3D printers, but getting it to work is the hard part. One company claims to have overcome this last hurdle.
In what could become one of the biggest scientific breakthroughs of 2014, Organovo claims to have created vascular tissue with a 3D printer. Until now, researchers have only been able to create some of the tissue required to create a functioning liver, but the vascular system, which provides organs with oxygen and nutrients, just couldn't be created - until now that is.
So, how did they do it? According to 3ders, the researchers at Organovo combined fibroblasts and endothelial cells to create the vascular networks necessary for a functioning liver. With this breakthrough, the company was able to 3D print a liver that lived for 40 days in a petri dish.
While this is an amazing step forward in the development of 3D printed organs, it's still a little too early to throw away that organ donor card. It will take years of further research and trials before 3D printed organs can be used in humans. The good news is that 3D printed organs can be used to advance medicine without going into bodies. Researchers will be able to use these 3D printed organs to test new medications on which would significantly cut down on the cost and time required to bring new medications to market.
In short, we're still years away from replacing our body parts with 3D printed versions. That being said, we're probably only a short year away from researchers achieving something that so far has only been seen in science-fiction - growing functioning organs in a lab.
Image via organovoinc/YouTube