THE FLUX ISSUE
3D Printing (Ovaries)
Normothermic Perfusion (Liver)
Scientists can’t yet harvest cells to a functional, 3D-printed organ, but researchers at Northwestern University have been hard at work, making a prosthetic ovary out of gelatin using a 3D printer. The purpose? To eventually serve as a tool for survivors of childhood cancer in their fertility pursuits.
Organs can survive up to 24 hours in a Normothermic Perfusion machine, an instrument with a pump and an oxygenator that circulates donor blood or body temperaturepreservation solution. The most impressive part? While in the machine, an organ can repair itself from damage sustained in an icebox during transport. “If you can extend preservation time, you can match across a longer distance [and] use organs that would be unusable today,” Lewis says.
Supercooling (Kidney) Jedd Lewis, CEO and president of the Organ Preservation Alliance in California, credits a group of researchers at Harvard University who created preservative solutions to cool organs prior to transportation. By cooling the organs to minus 6 degrees Celsius without actually freezing them—the amount of time gained would be “enough to transplant organs around the world,” he says.
Xenotransplantation (Heart) The first animal-to-human heart transplant was a novel attempt—the chimpanzee heart in 1964 only lasted two hours before the patient died—but researchers have continued exploring xenotransplantation, which is the process of grafting or transplanting organs or tissues between species. Xenotransplantation has the potential to dramatically cut the organ transplant waitlist, but getting there isn’t easy. “It’s one thing to do clinical trials on a new cold medicine, but putting an experimental heart in somebody is kind of tough,” Cmunt says.
Decellularization and Recellularization (Lung)
Cloning (Skin) In 2013, scientists were able to reprogram human cells to make stem cells, which were later reprogrammed into skin cells—a big accomplishment in the quest to create transplantable organs and tissue. John Fung, M.D., the director of the Transplantation Institute at University of Chicago Medicine, says the commercial cloning of organs is 20 to 25 years away, but promising technologies are being tested now. “We have to depend on and hope that the innovations will reduce the instances of organ failure and improve organ repair technology,” he says.
A lung turns white when all of its cells are removed in the decellularization progress. The progress is a simple procedure where an organ is placed in a detergent that kills all the cells lining the organ while leaving the scaffold of the organ intact. Before the organ is transplanted, it is hooked up to a bioreactor and populated with the donor recipient’s own stem cells in recellularization. “It’s like taking a house and taking away the drywall and exposing the two-by-four and then bring your own dry walls in,” says Director of Northwestern Medicine’s Comprehensive Transplant Center Dr. Michael Abecassis. Using a patient’s own stem cells to populate the decellularized organ reduces the likelihood of rejection and dependency of anti-rejection drugs.