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article imageWill there be an emerging black market in 3D printed organs?

By Tim Sandle     Sep 24, 2016 in Health
3D printing technology continues to advance and progress is being made with producing a fully functioning organ, like a heart or a kidney. What would happen if this became a root in for illegal trade in printed organs?
At present, fully functioning 3D printed organs to be used in surgery do not exist, although considerable progress has been made. In a futurist article, Kristopher Sturgis of QMed has raised the possibility of such technology, once it becomes commercially available, falling into the wrong hands and triggering an illegal trade in 3D printed organs.
Advances in 3D printed technology (or ‘additive printing’) have led to 3D printed cells and self-assembly bio-sculptures, which can act as scaffold for surgery. For printing cells cells, a special device called the “Biopen” has been developed by technologists working at St Vincent's Hospital, Melbourne, Australia. What is remarkable about the pen is that it uses a proprietary bio-ink containing live human stem cells. With scaffold structures, 3D printed artificial vertebrae are being used in some medical centers.
There have also been advances with medical devices, such as 3D printed wheelchairs which can be tailored, in terms of the dimensions and functionality, to suit individual users. Remarkable as these advances are, the ultimate goal, in relation to biology, is the generation of 3D printed organs.
Organ trafficking is a problem and it is lucrative business for criminals. Often desperate people agreed to have kidney removed, for example. This can lead to death and also results in substandard organs being used in surgical procedures. The demand for organs is huge, with many facilities having long waiting lists for people needing lifesaving transplants. Lists are long because supply is low, and for those with insurance based healthcare systems, which favour the wealthy, some of those who cannot afford insurance can face little chance of securing a much needed transplant.
The topic of advanced bio-printing devices being used to supply artificial organs to be sold on the ‘black market’ is a subject that has also been picked up by Wired. Here the magazine questions what types of legislation will be needed to prevent unlicensed and unlawful operations from manufacturing cheap, low-quality bio-printed organs. This is certainly something likely to trouble regulatory bodies in the future.
More about organ trade, 3D printing, additive printing, printed organs, 3D printed organs
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