Kidney printer

Hyun-Wook Kang, a researcher at Wake Forest University Institute for Regenerative Medicine (WFIRM), prints kidney cells onto a scaffold upon which they will grow. Photo courtesy of WFIRM.

One of the things I love about this crazy town of Woodstock in which I live is the melange of viewpoints that come together and sometimes clash here. Yesterday as I enjoyed lunch at an outdoor cafe in the Village Green, a platoon of Harley riders in full leather regalia and their biker babes on the back thundered past, nearly drowning out the rock band going full swing there…and a militant vegan activist chatted me up about the book I was reading.

Our conversation turned quickly enough to what seemed the central cause of her life: ending the suffering of animals caused by eating their by products and experimenting on their tissues.

This brought to mind for me Steven Leckart’s August cover story for Popular Science on the revolution underway in 3D printing organs, skin, bone, and other body parts.

A long-term goal of this work is to one day be able to be able to print replacement organs on demand. For now that dream is a long way off. But a more immediate use of this technology is to produce smaller structures made of human kidney, liver, and other cells for the purpose of testing new drugs, which is one of the prime purposes of animal trials.

My new vegan friend quickly brushed aside my mention of this still-little-known emerging technology, but it could have a profound effect on not just animal trials (i.e., reducing them), and also on the efficacy of new drugs. From the article, on a company at the forefront of the revolution:

Oganovo’s first biological product will be liver tissue for drug testing…. “There are some pretty significant species differences between animals like rats and humans,” says Organovo’s [chief technology officer Sharon] Presnell. “So you can get a lovely answer from a rat that says, ‘Yeah, go forth!’ And in reality, in a human, it would not do well.”

Yes, change, it is a-coming. But in keeping with the times, it will not be televised; it will be 3D printed.