The printing of an engineered [non-functional model of a] replacement kidney on stage
at a recent TED talk is just the latest in a spate of recent high-profile biomedical engineering headlines.
Earlier this year, a British engineer named Tal Golesworthy suffering from Marfan syndrome
made headlines for building himself a life-saving custom aorta reinforcement patch
using modern 3-D scanning and tissue printing techniques.
Last month, National Geographic ran a show on biomedical engineering that featured the "skin cell gun
- and I should mention it includes brief footage of burn injuries that might bother some folks), a device that deposits a patient's own cultured skin cells on burn wounds and heals severe burns within days, rather than months or years.
Now, we have the recent TED talk by Dr. Anthony Atala about his team's work on organ replacement engineering, which is promising but not yet ready for therapeutic use. The talk is a real stunner, with Dr. Atala displaying a fresh-from-the-printer prototype kidney
and introducing a young man who, ten years earlier, received a bioengineered bladder replacement.
Simpler tissues have been in therapeutic use for some time, but more complex replacement organs are quite challenging to engineer, especially when it comes to matching up blood vessels. The kidney, with its massively complicated blood vessel structure, is the holy grail of made-to-order replacement organs, as kidneys are on the wish list of the vast majority of would-be organ recipients.
To be clear, the on-stage demo was a proof-of-concept, not a functional kidney.
There have been some misleading reports in the science media regarding this point. As I understand it, Dr. Atala is capable of generating kidney tissue and printing it to match the shape and size of the recipient's kidney, but they have not yet solved the blood vessel issue.
This slice of the future has been brought to you by MRI
, rapid prototyping
(a cousin of the DIY 3-D printer
), tissue engineering
, and stem cells
. And, of course, by a culture that values scientific research