Can 3D printed organs alleviate shortages of kidneys for transplants?

The growing demand for kidney transplants underscores a pressing concern in global health. 3D-printed tissues are a promising solution. However, printing speed and accuracy remain a challenge. In this Q&A interview, Vidmantas Šakalys of Vital 3D provides valuable insights and hints at a “transformative solution on the horizon”.

The global health industry is in a bad light due to the increasing demand for transplants. According to Global Observatory of Donation and Transplantation 2021 saw a massive 144.301 organ transplants. That’s a huge increase of 11.3 percent from 2020. Out of this number, two thirds were kidney transplants.

Only 25,000 of the almost 90,000.000 US citizens who are on the waiting list for a transplant receive it in any given year. This means that 17 people perish every day due to the effects of long waiting periods.

Could 3D printing provide the solution?

3D-printed tissues have emerged as an innovative solution to this crisis. This groundbreaking technique, a combination of advanced bioprinting and personalized medicine, could potentially close the gap between supply and demand in the kidney donation market.

However, the journey towards routinely implementing 3D-printed organs in medical settings isn’t without its hurdles. To reproduce the intricate functions and structures of organs, bioprinting requires specialized equipment and in-depth knowledge.

While the technology is rapidly advancing, it’s still at its infancy and needs rigorous testing to make sure that printed organs are safe and functional.

Challenges facing the industry

Printing speed is a major obstacle. It is difficult to strike a balance between speed and precision. With their 100-150 km long intricate vascular networks, kidneys are a complex organ.

Vidmantas Šakalys, the CEO of Vital 3D, highlights the problem, saying: “To recreate such an elaborate structure, we’re often at a crossroads, having to choose between speed and accuracy.

“Even the most advanced bioprinters, as of now, may take up to a fortnight for an intricate print, which is hardly conducive for live cells.”

The solution is possible

Šakalys provides a glimpse into the industry’s future by unveiling the concept of FemtoBrush. He explains: “Light, with its pivotal role in bio-printing, has been a focus for technological advancements.

“Yet, the application of femtoseconds in printing still remains painstakingly slow, underscoring the inherent technical challenges. This very obstacle is behind our inspiration.”

Currently, the invention is awaiting patent approval. The goal of this innovation is to revolutionize 3D-printing. Armed with the Spatial Light Modulator, this technology can dynamically alter the laser beam’s shape, bestowing it with unprecedented versatility.

Touting a precision of up to 1 micron and impressive printing speeds, Šakalys says: “Our aim with this innovation is transformative. We aspire to print the kidney’s expansive vascular network, within just a 24-hour period.”

The road to 3D printed organs may be filled with obstacles, but sustained research and breakthrough technologies point to a brighter future in addressing the kidney shortage.

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