Organ need amidst medical breakthrough with Dr. Alicia Arnold

EAU CLAIRE, Wis. (WEAU)- It’s being called a medical breakthrough! Israeli researchers have constructed the first complete heart created with a 3-D printer. Scientists at Tel Aviv University say it’s a big advance in engineering replacements for diseased human organs. This is the first 3-D printed heart with blood vessels. It takes about three hours to print using current technology.

This morning, we sit down with Dr. Alicia Arnold to give us a little more insight into what this could mean for everyone.

Would you consider this a medical breakthrough?

“This is an advance in multiple ways,” Dr. Alicia Arnold said. “This is an example of personalized medicine, which is the trend in patient care. This means that the treatment is personalized to each patient because in this case it starts with the patient's own cells. This is also reportedly the first time that a heart was successfully engineered with blood vessels, which are key for the organ to actually survive and function.”

Is there a potential that 3-D printed organs could be used?

“It's still a ways off that we could actually use a 3-D printed heart. The addition of blood vessels is an exciting step, but the heart reportedly still doesn't pump or withstand the kind of pressure that a real heart would have to be able to do. There is exciting ongoing research for the development of other 3-D printed organs as well.”

Could it really be just as good as a "real" organ?

“One of the potential problems that patients have when receiving an organ transplant is rejection, which is when the body's own immune system, will attack the newly transplanted organ as foreign. One potential advantage of using engineered organs is the idea of using cells from the actual patient to engineer the organ. This would eliminate the risk of organ rejection. Another advantage is that the organ could be made to the exact size and shape needed, which could potentially be a better fit for a patient than a donor organ.

We hear that the number of people waiting on a transplant list or someone who was born with an organ defect, those lists can be long as they look for new donors, just how great is the need for organs?

“It's a significant need. Over 115,000 people in our country are currently waiting for organs and it is estimated that more than 20 die each day while waiting for a transplant. So being able to successfully engineer organs could save many lives in our country.”

What needs to be done in terms of research to make a 3-d printed organ functional?

“There are technical details still being worked on. In this example, the heart needs to be bigger and contain more advanced blood vessels for it to work for humans. This could increase the time needed to make the heart, and the cells may run the risk of not surviving long enough to print. The heart's cells would also need to contract at the same time for the heart to be able to beat.”