The thought of simply producing a new organ when one gives out is mind-boggling. Believe it or not, humanity isn’t that far away from making it a reality. A few breakthroughs and FDA approval are all that stand in the way of growing fully-functional organs in labs.
One man wants to stay ahead of the curve. Dean Kamen’s name might sound familiar to mall cops and tourists since he invented the impossible-to-ride Segway. Although his two-wheeled invention didn’t become the next big thing, Kamen hasn’t given up on inventing.
Right now, he’s setting his sights on mass-producing human organs. Fortunately, it isn’t as gruesome as it sounds.
Although it feels like something out of “Star Trek,” the ability to synthetically create new organs is quickly becoming reality. A team of researchers from Tel Aviv University announced in April 2019 that they successfully bioprinted a human heart. The technique is similar to 3D printing but uses biological materials instead of plastic.
When the team demonstrated their technique last year, the heart was even biocompatible with the tissue’s original donor. That means that one day soon, printed organs will be an ideal solution for transplant patients.
It’s for that exact reason Kamen wants to mass-produce human organs. With more than 110,000 people waiting on the organ transplant list in the U.S. alone, wasting time is a matter of life or death.
Back in 2016, Kamen received an $80 million grant from the Department of Defense. With it, he founded the Advanced Regenerative Manufacturing Institute (ARMI). The nonprofit connects healthcare institutions, researchers, and medical companies to share resources. It is also putting up $300 million in funding to help research and build the equipment needed to manufacture lab-grown organs on a large scale.
According to a report from OneZero, Kamen and his company are already working on a prototype machine. The inventor told the publication that he wants to “pump out hearts and kidneys much the same way factories produce smartphones: in high-tech assembly lines.”
Even if the world is still several years away from mass-producing human organs, Kamen wants to be ready. Doing the preparation now will help him quickly scale his company’s production when that day inevitably arrives.
Focusing on Health
It shouldn’t be surprising that Dean Kamen is focusing on something in the health space. Although the inventor might be best known for the Segway, most of his ideas have some degree of a medical component to them.
Before inventing the two-wheeled transporter, Kamen dreamed up a wheelchair that lets users move up and down stairs and easily raise up to eye level. He’s also invented things like medical pumps, stents, and prosthetic robotic arms.
In response to the COVID-19 pandemic, his company started producing sterile IV bags and researching better mask materials. To date, Kamen holds more than 440 patents in the U.S. and internationally.
Even so, mass-producing organs is his biggest undertaking yet. Should it work out better than the Segway did, Kamen’s forward-thinking could be lifesaving to hundreds of thousands of people waiting for an organ transplant.