Well there’s a headline we didn’t think we’d be writing today. Yet there it is as a real thing lighting the way for 3D printed organs and edible meat of the future.
This particular liver printing example comes out of a San Diego startup, Organovo, who can generate a slice of functioning, long-lasting liver by printing layers of living cells. Creepy. The liver naturally regenerates itself, as we’ve tested many a weekend after a big night out. That's what makes it great for this project, that and its simplicity.
The latest printed liver was able to survive for 40 days fully functioning. It filtered out toxins and drugs to keep in nutrients. That’s a 700 per cent increase on Organovo's effort last April which managed five days. Perhaps the burger printing future we’ve dreamed of isn’t so far off after all.
The only thing not mastered by 3D printing here is the ability to integrate blood vessels. It’s these which keep a normal liver alive and healthy, and the reasons this example dies after 40 days. But for now even thin parts of livers could help patients as these could be made from their own stem cells meaning it won’t get rejected upon implant.
Organovo plans to deliver slices of liver in the 3D Human Liver Project in 2014. This aims to offer a means of testing drugs on human tissue without risking harming humans, and cutting down on animal testing. When you can print off your own liver and onion for frying up at home is another matter.