You can make a lot of things using a 3D printer and now researchers at UTSA believe they’re very close to being able to print organs; something that could save countless lives.
To realize how ground breaking that would be, you just have to talk to an organ transplant recipient like San Antonian Melissa Ann Padilla.
“I had kidney problems since I was born. I weighed 2 lbs, 2 oz,” Padilla said.
For decades, pain and suffering was routine for Padilla, and it only got worse as she got older.
“It just all kind of started going downhill and then I ended on dialysis, which is no fun,” Padilla recalled.
Thankfully for Padilla, there was someone who was the perfect match for a kidney transplant. The donor was her sister.
“People wait forever, people die on that list and that wasn't and option for me, because I have two kids and a family,” Padilla said.
The problem for those not as fortunate as Padilla is waiting to find the perfect match. The solution to this problem could be at the UTSA biomedical engineering department with the help of a recently purchased 3D printer.
“This is very, very rare. I believe there may be five or six in the country at this point, maybe 10 or so in the world,” Dr. Teja Guda said.
Aside from the $200,000 price tag, think of it as a regular printer, but instead of ink, cartridges are filled with a material that holds stem cells together.
“Most 3D printers use one of two things to print materials: They either use really high pressures or high temperatures,” Dr. Guda said. "Now, if you had living cells going through some of those conditions, they would die by the time I printed them.”
Dr. Guda said regenerating bone and muscle tissue could become a reality within the next year. From there, the possibilities grow to organs like the kidney and liver. Helping potential organ recipients might still be about 10 years away, but he’s confident it will become a reality.
“You hear of these people all the time who are on donor lists and there's all sorts of criteria and you have to be a perfect match, but the technology we're talking about, if I’m just printing a material that everybody would accept normally and it’s your own cells going into it, there’s no scope of rejection and it’s a game changer in that sense more than anything,” Dr. Guda said.
It’s important to note, organ donation is and will remain vital to saving lives in the future. But this kind of advancement in medical technology would still be the next big leap in medicine, providing care for a larger number of people.
“I think it’s amazing and I would be pretty happy if more people could get what they needed to continue their lives, especially a healthy life and not having to worry about dialysis every day,” Dr. Guda said.