Hyun-Wook Kang oversees the 3D printer that will be used to print miniature organs for the “body on a chip” system.

Medical technology is no stranger to the newest advances. The pace of innovation in hospitals around the world is matched only by growing needs.

With the need for organ transplant donors vastly outstripping supply by an alarming margin, researchers at Wake Forest University and medical corporation Organovo have developed methods of 3-D printing organs with the potential for incredible application.

Full-Scale Organ Reproduction

The concept of creating new organs is nothing new, though the methodology most certainly is. Previously, doctors were able to hand-build simple organs by layering tissue and growing the product in an incubator. Most organs that were developed in this manner were limited to flat organs, such as skin, tubular organs, like the windpipe, and hollow, non-tubular organs, like the stomach.

The holy grail of organ reproduction, however, has remained out of reach to previous organ creation methods. Solid organs, filled with complex networks and systems, including the heart, kidney, and liver, have eluded the capabilities of doctors due to their intricacy and challenging structure. 3-D printing hopes to solve this conundrum by introducing a more precise and efficient method for creating organs that would enable this level of detail and open the doors for solid-organ transplants.

At this point, hand-made organs of all but the most complex nature have been successfully implemented in human bodies. 3-D printed organs remain to be tested.


While the effectiveness of 3-D printing large, solid organs remains to be evaluated, scientists are making breakthroughs using the same method to create scaled down human systems. The concept, known as “body-on-a-chip”, reproduces the basic structure of internal organs in the space of a quarter, and allows researchers to better evaluate the effects of foreign pathogens on the human body.

The work, backed by a Defense Department grant, would specifically work to understand what chemical warfare does to the human body and how to better combat such insidious measures.

The body-on-a-chip organs are reproduced one at a time until a functioning facsimile is developed. Once researchers have developed the vital components of the human body, the various systems can be linked to better understand how the human body reacts as a whole to drugs and pathogens. The work also hopes to replace animal testing, which remains an inefficient and inaccurate means of evaluating the efficacy of drugs.

The work is a beautiful combination of innovation and need that can revolutionize the world of organ transplants and drug testing. While the technology still has a long road of development ahead, effective medical minds combined with tech’s finest are pioneering a new world where the wait for compatible donors is a thing of the past.

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