Genetic replicators are one of the most captivating pieces of future technology featured in the “Star Trek” franchise. With a few clicks, Federation doctors could scan a patient and quickly fabricate a healthy new organ for them.
Now, thanks to some Israeli researchers, that life-saving technology is no longer confined to the realm of fiction.
3D Printing Vital Organs
Earlier this month, scientists from Tel Aviv University successfully 3D printed a human heart in around three hours. Researchers harvested fatty tissue from a patient, used genetic editing to transform it into heart cells, and then turned the genetic material into bio-ink.
In the past, clinicians have been able to replicate simple tissue structures, but not complex functional organs. The 3D printed heart has all the chambers, ventricles and blood vessels found in a real human heart.
Sadly, researchers are currently only capable of replicating 2.5-centimeter human hearts. Scientists will have to perform a lot more testing and refining before they can replicate surgery-ready organs.
Revolutionary Medical Treatment
The Tel Aviv University team made two important discoveries with their newly printed heart. The organ is biocompatible and a match from the tissue donor. That means the inevitable full-sized synthetic organs will be suitable for heart transplant patients. Furthermore, as replicated hearts are made from the patient’s own cells, transplant recipients won’t need postoperative immunosuppressant medication.
Researchers also noted their bioorganic 3D printer system can help patients with a variety of ailments. For instance, patients with severe heart disease can receive brand-new organs. Additionally, scientists hope their machine will be able to fabricate individual pieces of the cardiac tissue for use in less drastic procedures.
The clinicians behind the organ replication breakthrough estimate full-sized hearts will take about a day to replicate. Then, they’ll need about a month to mature to the point where they can beat and contract.
The Israeli scientists said they hope to begin animal testing in about a year. Tal Dvir, leader of the university group, hopes his breakthrough will revolutionize medical treatment globally. “Maybe, in 10 years, there will be organ printers in the finest hospitals around the world, and these procedures will be conducted routinely,” said the professor.
The Power of 3D Printing
With its cross-sector utility and wide-ranging functionality, 3D printing looks to be one of the key technologies of the 21st century.
Typically, 3D printing has been viewed as a method of creating clothing, toys, and buildings. But innovators across the globe are finding new applications for the process. Structo3D has created the world’s fastest dental model fabricator. Last year, Purdue University developed a new technique to 3D print nanoscale electronic components.
Clever designers are even using the technology to tackle the e-waste problem. In Venezuela, engineers have developed a system that involves transforming plastic waste into functional car parts.
The 3D printing sector has also proven to be extraordinarily lucrative for hungry entrepreneurs. Last month, industrial 3-D printing company Markforged secured $82 million in Series D funding.
Though it may be a while before humanity develops warp-capable starships, replicators are just around the corner.