The Organ Nazis’ Verdict? “No Kidney for You”
Are you or someone you love in need of a transplant organ? You aren’t alone.
Kidneys, livers, hearts — the number of patients in need of a transplant is skyrocketing. But the supply can’t keep up with the demand.
Back in 2006, for example, 66,000 people were on the waiting list for a kidney transplant. By the end of 2014, the list had skyrocketed to 102,000. Only 17,000 transplants were performed last year, and 4,500 people died waiting for a replacement organ.
The shortage has become so bad that “death panels” have just been implemented to deal with the problem.
Are you an older person in poor health in need of a kidney? The organ Nazis aren’t going to allow it.
Younger, healthier patients will now be at the front of the line. With the huge and growing list of people in need, you could die waiting.
The numbers aren’t good for livers, either: 17,000 people are on that waiting list.
In fact, over 123,000 people are waiting for a transplant organ in the U.S. alone — but fewer than 30,000 transplants were performed last year. And from January through October 2014, fewer than 12,000 donors were found.
A Hot New Black Market
The problem has become so severe, unethical black markets in transplant organs have emerged. Criminals are trafficking organs around the world. Some cases even involve the kidnap and murder of children and teens.
The supply can’t keep up with the demand, and even when a transplant is performed, the problems don’t end. Donor organs don’t match a recipient’s own immune system. This is even true when you are able to find a relative to help save your life. That’s because we are all biologically different. Even when there is a good match between donor and patient, there is still risk of rejection by the immune system, so transplant patients must remain on dangerous immune-suppressing drugs for life.
The organ transplant market is different from other health care markets. For example, when a drug or vaccine is needed, we can make more. We can make as much as the market needs. We can make enough for everyone.
Unfortunately, we can’t make organs right now to satisfy the urgent need for transplants.
But we will soon. In fact, we will be printing them.
Just take a look at the picture below.
This is the world’s first printed liver.
A new technology called 3-D bioprinting is on its way to making organ transplants a thing of the past.
I’ve had the pleasure of interviewing leading 3-D bioprinting innovators, and the science is advancing fast. They are using a specially designed printer that instead of ink uses biologically compatible materials and human cells.
This technology is already changing the face of drug research. In early-stage drug testing, you want the best data possible in order to determine whether a new drug is going to be safe and effective for use in living humans. For example, in order to test a drug’s toxicity on the liver, you study its effect on liver cells.
But 3-D-printed tissues are much better test subjects for experimental drugs than loose cells. That’s because they mimic human tissues in the body better.
We’ve already used 3-D printing to grow simple tissues and implant them in patients. For example, researchers have printed new bladders for children with birth defects. And last year, researchers printed a trachea and implanted it into a pig. Since the trachea used the pig’s own cells, there was no risk of rejection.
Soon, we will be able to print heart tissue patches in order to graft them onto a part of the heart that has been damaged by clogged blood vessels.
2015 will see new bioprinting firsts. For example, a group of Russian researchers say they will make history this year by printing a thyroid and grafting it into a patient missing the organ. From there, they want to progress to printing a working transplanted kidney within three years.
3-D bioprinting is starting out with simple organs and picking up speed toward more complex ones.
By 2025, the process will look like this:
When you need a new kidney, physicians will scan your damaged organ, creating a 3-D digital model. Using design software, they will then build a set of instructions for printing a new one.
They will also take some of your own cells and use them to grow the appropriate types of stem cells needed for the organ. Then, with this biological “ink” and other printing material, they will print the kidney and grow it to maturity in a bioreactor. Once it’s done “cooking,” you’ll be ready to go into surgery to receive your new organ.
Printing complex organs will crash the transplant market and put an end to waiting lists that are killing people. There will be enough supply to meet demand — and best of all, the organs will be made of our own cells!
Before too long, a significant number among the older population will be walking around with fresh hearts, kidneys and livers.
Can you imagine?
No more heart disease… No more lung cancer… No more begging relatives to give up a kidney.
The world is changing, my friends.
It’s a good time to be alive.