Driverless Cars Will Mean Fewer Deaths in Auto Accidents; Can 3D Printed Organs Fill the Resulting Organ Donor Shortage?

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3dp_selfdrivingcars_traffic-e1453641394655Self-driving cars have been talked about for a long time, and they’re finally starting to become a reality. There’s a lot to be excited about as we get closer to a future in which autonomous cars shuttle us around. The biggest and most obvious advantage is that when you take fallible, often tired, sometimes inebriated humans out from behind the wheel and hand the keys to a machine, many fewer deaths will happen on the roadways. The downside is that…um…many fewer deaths will happen on the roadways.

Come again? That’s right, there’s a balance to everything, and fewer automobile deaths means that we may see more people dying as they wait for organ transplants. The majority of organ donations come from victims of car accidents, and if that source diminishes, we could be facing a shortage of badly needed organs for transplants. Approximately 6,500 people die in the US every year while waiting for an organ transplant, and another 4,000 are taken off the waiting list after being deemed too sick for a transplant. The waiting list keeps getting longer, too, standing at over 123,000 people as of this year.

6c7800301-g-cvr-130608-organ-donor-nbcnews-ux-2880-1000The lives of those 123,000 people largely depend on the more than 35,000 people who die in car accidents every year. One in five transplanted organs comes from a victim of an automobile accident – and the majority of those accidents are caused by human error, according to the US Department of Transportation. When the possibility of human error is taken out of the equation, car accident deaths are likely to become a rarity.

So what’s to be done? Should we just accept that the mortality rate of one group of people is going to go up while that of another group drops? Of course not, so it’s time to start looking at alternatives. Ian Adams and Ann Hobson of Slate propose the legalization of a limited organ market, which sets off all sorts of alarm bells in my head, although I may just have seen too many terrible movies in which people wake up to find themselves unexpectedly lacking a kidney.

Adams and Hobson offer some other possible alternatives that have been successful in other countries, such as incentives for living donors and a system that presumes people are willing to be organ donors upon their deaths unless they state that they want to opt out. That still doesn’t solve the “problem” of the reduced death rate we’re likely to see with the introduction of autonomous cars, though.

The first solution that comes to my mind, of course, is 3D printed organs. Yes, they’re a way off, still, in terms of viable 3D printed organs that can actually be transplanted into living human recipients. But to that end, autonomous vehicles are still a way off as well, in terms of self-driving cars outnumbering human-driven cars on the roadways. For the most part, they’re still very much in the testing stage, although a few have made an appearance on the roads.

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It may turn out that 3D printed organs and self-driving cars make their real-world debuts simultaneously, which would be a perfect solution to the problem that Adams and Hobson fear. Few people doubt that transplantable 3D printed organs will be a success; for a while now, it’s just been a matter of when, and regular updates from the bioprinting world indicate that it’s not going to be as long as some people might think.

I admit that it never occurred to me before that autonomous vehicles would mean fewer organs available for transplant. (The top comment on Adams and Hobson’s article amused me: “Only Slate could turn a reduction in traffic fatalities into a bad thing,” the reader fumed.) It really is something that should be taken into consideration, though – advancements in technology often have hidden downsides that few people think about, such as people being put out of jobs by robots, for example. Fewer traffic-related deaths is an unqualified positive, in my opinion, but Adams and Hobson are correct in pointing out that we definitely should be taking steps right now to find an alternate source of transplantable organs.

3dbiop3D printed organ transplants are predicted to be superior in many other ways to the transplants carried out today, in fact. Because they can be made from the patient’s own stem cells, there’s a greatly reduced risk of rejection, and they should be able to be printed relatively quickly, whittling that waiting list down in no time. And when they finally become an available option, patients and their loved ones can celebrate recovery without the guilt and sadness that comes from receiving life at the expense of someone else’s death. Discuss in the 3D Printed Organs forum at 3DPB.com.

[Source: Slate]

 

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