As of when this blog was posted, 120,630 people are waiting for organs to be donated. Of those people, 4,104 people are in need of hearts. Fortunately, technology is constantly improving, with the potential to keep up with the demand.
For heart transplants, one might think that we can just take out a red, bloody heart and surgically implant it into the chest cavity. However, that ideology neglects the complexity of transplants and the many considerations doctors face for this procedure.The list of complications just goes on–Biocompatibility, viability of the heart, leakage, and technical errors. Thankfully, there is one kind of heart that can be transplanted with a higher chance of success–a ghost heart.
The process of making a ghost heart was developed by Doris Taylor, a director at the Texas Heart Institute. The first step to the process is called decellularization, in which you remove all of the cells from the dead organ, and that’s how it becomes a ghost heart. Typically, scientists use a pig’s heart since it is less susceptible to disease and less likely to break. Although this seems odd it is actually much safer than using a human heart. Before transplanting the heart, the patient’s stem cells must repopulate the heart scaffold, and then the surgery can take place. However, the ending result varies widely due to the unfamiliarity of the process, and this new procedure has yet to be perfected.
With 3D printing technology finally reaching the point where we can print organs, we have new hopes to meet the demand without literally living off of donations. However, there are several issues the medical world has to overcome before we can utilize 3D printed organs. First and foremost, organs are still too complex to effectively print them. As of mid-2014, “there is no software powerful enough to make very detailed organ models that researchers can consult before printing. … [Although] the printed cells [are] fused together, [they don’t] work as intended.” The process still hasn’t been proven substantial to the public. Unfortunately, most of the “semi-functional” organs are either not functional or short-lived.
Although this process isn’t ready to be used in hospitals, this concept presents the world with infinite beneficial possibilities. 3D bioprinting is the future of humanity and a future for patients all over the world.
By Amanda Wang