In the spirit of US President John F. Kennedy calling for a manned moon exploration programme in 1962, Doug Smock, writing in Plastics Today, calls for another bold move—this time in medical technology. For starters, we can build a kidney.
It's eminently doable, and to buttress his view, he quotes Keith Murphy, CEO of Organovo (San Diego, CA, USA), which developed one of the first commercial bioprinters. "If the federal government created a 'human organ project' and wanted to make the kidney, I literally think it could happen in 10 years," says Murphy. To be sure, great strides have been made in enabling technologies.
Organovo presented data on the first fully bioprinted blood vessels at the Tissue Engineering and Regenerative Medicine International Society meeting in Orlando, FL, USA, writes Smock. The vessels are the world's first arteries made solely from cells of an individual person.
Elsewhere, engineered livers and bioprinted heart valves have been developed in laboratory settings, and EnvisionTec in Gladbeck, Germany, has built a bioprinter. The missing ingredient to take all of this to the next level, writes Smock, is large-scale financial support. “The projects aren't close enough to reality to attract significant corporate support.”
It would be grand if our fearless leaders were to boldly spring into action and make “the development of replacement human organs our next moon shot,” as Smock advocates. But as the political process in the United States flirts with absurdity and Europe stares slack-jawed at the Merkozy pantomime, it's difficult to see where the leadership for a project this ambitious might come from.