Last week Japan announced it would allow experiments to grow human organs in animals. These experiments are controversial, not in the least place because of animal welfare concerns and the possibility of cross-species diseases. However, xenotransplantation is not the only line of research pursued to solve the shortage of donor organs.
Another method studied by scientists around the globe, is the use of 3D printing to create organs. Recently we discussed that researchers at Tel Aviv University had managed to print fully functional hearts. Now a team from Carnegie Mellon University has developed a new method to print a 3D collagen scaffold to grow a human heart.
Such a scaffold provides the structure of an organ, in which relevant tissue – probably that from the prospective recipient – could be injected. Once the organ is full grown, it could be implanted into the patient.
Another alternative for organ transplants is to inject sick organs with healthy donor stem cells. For instance scientists from King’s College London have identified a new type liver stem cell that could be used to regenerate sick livers.
We prefer, both for practical and moral reasons, 3D printed organs and stem cell therapy over the use of animals to address the chronic shortage of donor organs.