We’ve been hearing a lot lately about the possibility of 3D bioprinting organs, such as livers, kidneys and hearts. In fact, many experts within the medical field expect 3D printing to have progressed enough in the next ten years, to make all this possible. Researchers are already 3D printing parts of certain organs, and as each month passes, new discoveries are unveiled. Such research is very important, as waiting lists for organ transplants continue to get longer and longer.
According to the National Kidney Foundation, the waiting list for kidney transplants currently stands at close to 100,000 individuals. End-Stage Renal Disease (ESRD) is responsible for over 90,000 deaths in the United States alone each year. Those are staggering numbers that researchers are hoping to eliminate, or at least cut in half. Six School of Engineering students at the University of Connecticut are taking a a very unique approach to the problem, one that requires 3D printing, but not in a biological sense. The six students, Danny Ung, Derek Chhiv, Guleid Awale, Meaghan Sullivan, Benjamin Coscia, and Ali Rogers, are working to create artificial kidneys.
Directed by Anson Ma, assistant professor in the Department of Chemical and Biomolecular Engineering and the Institute of Materials Science, the students have split into two teams of three, and over the last year have been working on a solution to save lives. One of the two teams decided to look into ways in which they could use hollow fiber membrane technology, the same technology used in current dialysis treatments, to create a solution. The other team used electrodialysis and forward osmosis technologies in their prototype device.
Benjamin Coscia explained the hollow fiber membrane technology: “Because 3D printing resolutions are not currently low enough to print a structure which will actually filter blood, the file is of only the shell of the kidney. Hollow fiber membranes will be installed on the inside to do the filtration function. The kidney will then be sealed together using the threads and sealing o-rings. A fluid called dialysis will be circulated on the outside of the membranes, inside of the shell, which will cause flux of components from the blood. A waste stream maintains the person’s ability to urinate. The outside of the shell can be used as a substrate for growth of biological material for ease of integration into the body.”
Each team went in their separate direction, but both used 3D printing as an integral part of their designs. They both used AutoCAD software to design their kidneys, and were able to select the correct materials and printers to use, thanks in part to UConn’s technology partner, ACT Group.
Earlier this month we were made aware of a project by researchers at the University of California, who were able to 3D print an artificial liver from hydrogel. Both kidneys, in theory, should function within the human body. There has been no details provide by UConn, as to what the next steps may be to further the development of each artificial kidney design. You can be certain though, that researchers will continue their work on this very important technology. Ten days ago the students presented their projects at the School of Engineering Senior Design Demonstration Day at UConn. Take part in discussion around this story, at the 3DPB.com forum thread related to the 3D printing of artificial kidneys.
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