Biggest hurdle now is regulation, not technology, says Autodesk CEO
3D printing of human organs will no longer be the stuff of science fiction, but a reality in the next few years, with kidneys and bladders expected to be printed first.
Also known as Additive Manufacturing (AM), 3D printing is the process of making three-dimensional products by using layering materials, such as plastic powder, metals or liquids, utilising a computer. This has already evolved to make human organs, a move that would mark the biggest breakthrough for organ transplantation.
“We are certainly being able to grow biological things, but the biggest hurdle is the regulation and not technology.
“If you talk to researchers, they would say it is possible to print identical biological tissues within five years,” said Carl Bass, President and Chief Executive Officer, Autodesk.
“We are also seeing a fair amount of stuff where they are doing mechanical implants, not really biological tissues but things like prosthetic devices. I think in the next few years you will see 3D printing of human organs,” he said.
On its part, Autodesk recently launched a software package for 3D printing of orthopaedic implants. The US-based design technology company is also in talks with a number of firms to provide its software for 3D organ printing, though Bass declined to name them. “Bladders and kidneys are the easiest to make. This (3D printing of organs) is now less science fiction and more of science fact,” Bass said.
No central registry
Recently, certain companies forayed into 3D printing of DNA (deoxyribonucleic acid) strands (with only 30 per cent success) and even stem cells. Body fluids such as blood could also be made in the future, he added.
At present, there is no central registry in India that maintains a record of patients awaiting organ transplant.
While the country is in the process of building one, every State maintains its own records. According to the Tamil Nadu Network for Organ Sharing, a registry maintained by the State government, there are 5,342 patients waiting for kidney, 480 for liver, 101 for heart and 49 for lungs.
The hurdles for 3D printing are that it is “too slow, too cumbersome and too difficult to use”, said Bass, who has been the company’s CEO since 2006.
The biggest challenges are speed and size, he added.
AM is also driving major innovations across engineering, manufacturing, art, education and medicine, and is used across a variety of sectors such as aerospace, mechanics and high-performance automobiles.
(The writer was in Tokyo at the invitation of Autodesk.)