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New Kidney ‘Printed’ On TED Stage

March 6, 2011

A surgeon has created a kidney using an experimental technique that he hopes will someday eliminate the need for donors for organ transplants.

The surgeon, Anthony Atala of the Wake Forest Institute of Regenerative Medicine, “printed” a kidney on Thursday at a TED Conference in the California city of Long Beach. “It’s like baking a cake,” he said while showing how the technique works.

Wake Forest has since clarified media inaccuracies in a press release, stating Dr. Atla printed “a kidney-shaped mold”, not a functioning kidney.

Scanners are used to take a 3D image of a kidney that needs to be replaced, then a tissue sample about half the size of a postage stamp is used to seed the process, he explained. The organ printer then works layer-by-layer to create a replacement kidney replicating the patient’s tissue.

“This is still experimental and in no way eliminates the need for organ donors,” said Karen Richardson, a spokesman for Wake Forest. “The hope is that one day this technology can be used to print organs, but we are not yet to that point.”

College student Luke Massella was one of the first people to receive an organ — a bladder — engineered in a lab a decade ago when he was just 10 years old. He said he was born with spina bifida and his bladder was not working.

“Now, I’m in college and basically trying to live life like a normal kid,” Massella, who was reunited with Atala at TED, told AFP. “This surgery saved my life and made me who I am today.”

Atala said that about 90 percent of all people waiting for transplants need a kidney, and the need is much greater than the actual number that are available by donors.

“There is a major health crisis today in terms of the shortage of organs,” he noted. “Medicine has done a much better job of making us live longer, and as we age our organs don’t last.”

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