Karen Richardson is the Communications Manager at Wake Forest Institute for Regenerative Medicine and Department of Urology. She helped us pass along some questions to a team of scientists.
Here is what we learned!
Q: How does an organ bridge or connect to the new host in regards to a normal transplant?
A: The eventual goal is to print a vascular system that can be connected with the body’s circulatory system.
Q: With the technology to print or renew our organs, do you think it will prolong the life of human by a significant amount provided that we do regular body maintenance by simply replacing the part that has been worn out?
A: The primary goal of our work is to help improve the quality of patient’s lives. As far as extending the normal lifespan, we believe that regenerative medicine – along with preventive medicine and other medical advances – will play a role in gradually increasing the average human lifespan, just as it has increased over the past centuries. But the goal of regenerative medicine isn’t immortality, it is to improve patients’ lives and, in some cases, hopefully to even cure disease.
Q: What is the shelf life for engineered organs; what means are required to sustain them?
A: This issue has not yet been fully explored because currently, lab-grown organs and tissues are made one-by-one for small groups of patients participating in clinical trials. The organ or tissue is implanted shortly after it is ready. Your question is good and the issue will need to be explored as the science of regenerative medicine advances.
Q: How long does it take to get an engineered organ to mature and what are the challenges?
A: With the bladder, for example, it took approximately seven to eight weeks to engineer the organ once a small tissue biopsy was obtained from the patient.
Q: Approximately how many cells are required for bones and organ printing?
A: Bioprinting requires millions of cells. For example, to print a small ear structure requires about 120 million cartilage cells.
Q: Is bioprinting affordable for the average person?
A: The costs of regenerative medicine therapies will be determined once they have been approved by regulatory agencies and are available for widespread use. It is important to realize that the potential of regenerative medicine is to restore function and potentially cure disease. With a disease such as kidney failure, for example, it will be important to consider that in the U.S., billions of dollars are spent to provide dialysis treatments to patients with kidney failure. A therapy to restore organ function could be less expensive than years of dialysis treatment and the associated health complications.
Q: How far are we from the actual use of organs for transplants; 10, 15 years?
A: The nature of science is that there are both unexpected setbacks and breakthroughs, so it really is impossible to predict how long this project will take. Our guess is at least a decade and likely more.
Q: What are your thoughts about this technology; in regards to both applicability and ethics?
A: With tissue engineering, the ideal is to use a patient’s own cells. We are basically returning the patient’s cells to him – along with a biocompatible scaffold to support cell growth – so there are no ethical implications.
Finally, we would like to give a big thank-you to Karen and the scientists at Wake Forest for their help, and to our readers, retweet us on Twitter or comment on our Facebook page if you read this blog post!