Despite the growing number of organ donors in the United States, wait times for organ transplants tend to be absolute nightmares. Expected wait times for, say, a liver transplant typically hover around five years, with some states’ lists pushing transplant waits to nearly a decade. Understanding this for the massive problem it is, a Philadelphia-based startup named BioBots burst on the scene last spring armed with one incredibly revolutionary idea: develop and manufacture a 3D printer capable of printing real human tissue.
Not merely a pipe dream of a concept, BioBots physically demonstrated its plan at TechCrunch Display in New York last May by 3D printing a nearly exact replica of Vincent Van Gogh’s famous severed ear. After stunning the crowd in attendance that day, BioBots has since partnered with roughly 50 research facilities around the globe, according to an interview CEO Danny Cabrera gave Quartz. Not only has this partnership allowed for an incredible amount of research and development of the tech, but it’s allowed BioBots to officially launch its first, commercially available bioprinter, the BioBot 1. Basically, anyone who ponies up $10,000 in cash has the ability to buy their very own human tissue 3D printer. Where do we sign?
Though BioBots isn’t nearly the first company to attempt to create a 3D printer capable of producing human tissue, the key difference in its approach lies with the kind of bio-ink it utilizes. Essentially, this ink contains what’s called photoinitiator powder, which solidifies after its hit with a certain wavelength of blue light. This process allows the machine to print biomaterial without the need for UV light or pressure, which many biofabrication devices currently require. During the company’s recent research phase, Cabrera and his team made this unique bio-ink open-source, giving researchers in the field unfettered access to improve or develop new tech.
What makes the BioBot 1 particularly fascinating to the world of organ transplants is the fact BioBots outfitted the machine with two extruders. These extruders allow the machine to build complex structures (e.g., organ tissue, blood vessels, etc.) of which Cabrera believes could even be utilized for testing new drugs in the future. In addition to hoping the BioBot 1 shows up in labs across the world, he also thinks it could one day completely wipe out the organ transplant waiting list.
No matter how revolutionary BioBots’ human-tissue printer is, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration has yet to provide much information regarding its approval. Back in February, however, the FDA did tell Quartz it was currently considering the tech with a “significant scientific interest,” though an estimation on when it would issue an approval is still unknown. Though, regardless of the FDA’s approval or not, there’s no denying just how incredibly useful 3D-printing human tissue will inevitably prove to be.
Making BioBots’ innovative 3D printer available for public consumption is a massive step in the right direction toward seeing this tech begin to make a real difference. It’s literally just a matter of time before organ transplant candidates will not only receive relief sooner, but will have the ability to see their organs printed right before their very eyes.