Up@dawn 2.0

Sunday, April 26, 2015

Organ Transplant Part 3/3

This will be my final installment for my blog posts on Organ Transplants and Donations in which I will discuss the use of 3-D printing.

My last two posts have been centered around the shortage of organs. However the current solution to meeting the overwhelming demand have been less than "ideal".

Currently 3-D printing is already being used in medicine. One of the more successful uses has been in the advancement of 3-D printed prosthetics made to be more comfortable and even more affordable. Docotors and Engineers at Walter Reed Medical Center have been using this technology to customize proestheitcs to help patients do anything from being able to eat crabs to rock climbing, to firing a gun or bow and arrow. The girl pictured on the right is a girl from California named Faith who had her arm amputated at 9 months of age. If you would like to read more about her story and the militaries use in 3-D printing with regards to medicine.  I will post the link at the bottom of this post.

In addition to lower cost prosthetics 3-D printing is also being used in medicine to make blood vessels, prescription drugs, organ models used to aid in surgery/treatment, medical tools, even plastic cranium replacements have been successfully done. Many more things have been successfully printed using 3-D printer if you would like to read more about it I will post a link below.

The big promise in medicine with 3-D printing is the ability to print organs for patients awaiting a transplant. It has been predicted that with in a decade we may begin seeing 3-D printed hearts, kidneys, and livers. So 3-D printing provides an alternative to hoping a family member is a match, waiting 7 years on a list to receive an organ from a donor, waiting for a stranger to die in the hopes that you can receive their organ, or perhaps buying an organ off of the black-market. Even these run the risk of the organ still being rejected by your body. It seems as though 3-D printing provides a quicker and safer alternative for helping individuals receive the necessary medical treatment they are waiting for. So what is the problem?

There has been a bioethical debate in the use of this new technology in medicine and as it becomes more prevalent the debate is expected to heat up. One of the first debates is who has access to it. Just like in the case of buying organs will 3-D printed technology be only available for the wealthy, those who can afford the newest advancements' in medicine? If I am being completely honest I would say probably yes. I do not think insurance companies will immediately jump on the bandwagon and start paying to cover 3-D printed organs. I would say at first it will probably be only available for the wealthy. I can understand that this seems unfair but it is not all bad in my eyes. If we have the wealthy buying 3-D printed organs then we are essentially removing them from the waitlist allowing others to have a chance at receiving an organ from the donor list (I made this argument in my last post about why selling organs might benefit everybody). Eventually just like everything else I suspect that once 3-D printed organs become the norm everyone will have access to this technology.

The next argument is in the safety of this new technology. We currently do not have any regulation in place to help "test" the safety of printed organs. There are researchers who are testing the effectiveness of 3-D printed heart valves in mice, but, the idea of printing organs is about the opportunity to customize and personalize medicine for each individual. The nice part about 3-D printing in the future is hopes of using a patients own cells which is intended to theoretically prevent rejection of the organ because it is of course that patients own cells. However if doctor are using highly personalized organs how does an agency go about testing it to see its safety. Review board would need to revise there ways of testing the safety of medical treatments in order for this treatment to become more widespread.

In researching this I found an interesting discussion of using 3-D printed organs as a means of human enhancement. The typical thoughts come to mind such as athletes using this to get ahead. It has been suggested that they can do this by printing more efficient lungs to help them win a race, or building better muscles that are less likely to get fatigued. Excuse my language but I find this to be absolutely insane. I can not imagine an athlete waking up one morning and thinking to themselves I think I am going to get a lung transplant so I can win that marathon in a few months. But typically crazy ideas can become the norm eventually ( No one ever thought home computers or bottled water would catch on but hey look at where we are now.) If this does not sound weird enough it is about to get weirder. There has been discussion/ worry about the military using this technology to build a better army. There is talk about the military using this to make soldiers less susceptible to fatigue and wounds. It has been referred to as a new kind of "arms race." The worry with this is that weapons will become stronger and more deadly to overcome this stronger solider and this will pose a greater threat to "non-enhanced" civilian. This sounds more like a sci-fi thriller rather than a future reality at least to me that is. I think more of a worry for 3-D printing with the military is keeping the "blue-prints" if you will online making the technology susceptible to computer hackers.

I hope you all enjoyed by posts about the bioethics in Organ Donation and Transplant! If you guys have any questions please ask them in the comments section or ask me on Tuesday! I hope everyone has a great summer break!

Interesting Links for further reading:

Article about Faith, a California girl who recived a 3-D printed Prosthetic: http://3dprintingindustry.com/2015/04/02/faiths-new-3d-printed-arm-makes-bike-riding-a-breeze/

12 things we can 3-D print in medicine right now: http://3dprintingindustry.com/2015/02/26/12-things-we-can-3d-print-in-medicine-right-now/

If you are interested in reading about how 3-D printing is already being using to "make organs" feel free to read about it in this article

3-D printed beating heart cells: http://3dprintingindustry.com/2015/04/18/modular-3d-bioprinted-beating-heart-made-from-skin-cells/

Bioethical discussion of 3-D printing: http://www.abc.net.au/science/articles/2015/02/11/4161675.htm


  1. The idea of 3D printing organs is really cool. I can see where it raises ethical concerns though. For the organs to be printed, don't stem cells need to be used?

    1. Yes Stem Cells are used to print functioning organs for transplant. So those who are opposed to Stem Cell Research are thus also opposed to using 3-D printing for the purpose of printing functioning organs using stem cells. If people could get past the moral and religious concerns with stems cells (especially as they work with other ways besides embryonic stem cells)then using them for printing organs provides great promise. The researchers and doctors hope that there use in this way can help at least limit the chance or rejection of the organ by the body because it is essentially their own cells. The use of stem cells for printing organs is a huge reasons for the controversy over 3-D printing but I believe that solely lies in the controversy over the use of Stem cells in general. I tried to include in my post other dilemmas surrounding the use of 3-D printing as well.

  2. One step closer to the Universal Replicator!

    The most serious ethical concern with this technology is not necessarily with its medical applications, which seem mostly constructive, but with all the other things it might make "printable" - weapons, for one. But access and safety are important, of course.

    1. I agree! One of the scarier things I read about is the ability to print medication there was a whole TED talk about this new research. The article suggested that in the future they suspect that people will not need to go a pick up their medication but rather by a blue print for the computer to read and then with the necessary chemicals input into the printer a patient can print their own medication. This I could see being potentially dangerous when it comes to the use of chemical weapons/bio-terrorism if it gets in the wrong hands.

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