See tomorrow’s perspective a day early—from the insight of a futurist. Curated by Pamela McConathy Schied, MS, Futures Studies in Commerce, College of Technology, University of Houston; Principal, Foresight Communications Group, pam@thinkforesight.com.

On the Horizon – March 2017

3D bioprinting can now custom-build organs, tissues and bones

Soon, on-demand bioprinting will be the answer to organ donor shortages in this country that claim the lives of 22 people each day waiting for compatible donor organs. Major strides have already been made in this relatively new field as researchers have developed the first functioning 3D printed liver tissue and a tiny heart on a chip, as well as bioprinted skin, cartilage, bones and “mini-brains.” Since 3D bioprinting uses cells taken from the recipient’s body to create each body part, his or her immune system won’t reject the new one — a critical benefit of this technology.

The barriers to widespread adoption of 3D bioprinting are many at this juncture, yet progress is being made on several fronts. Costs are decreasing, 3D printed tissues and organs show promise in the lab, and a 3D Print Exchange has been formed to allow easy access to current research.

Researchers are now working to develop accurate digital models of target organs so bioprinters have an intricate guide to creating the complicated architecture of organs that typically involve blood vessels, different cell types and geometrical quirks.

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