Infographic: Which 3D printed organs are closest to being transplantable?

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No one has printed fully functional, transplantable human organs just yet, but scientists are getting closer, making pieces of tissue that can be used to test drugs and designing methods to overcome the challenges of recreating the body’s complex biology.

“There are a number of companies who are attempting to do things like 3-D print ears,” and researchers have already reported transplanting 3-D printed ears onto children who had birth defects that left their ears underdeveloped, notes Robby Bowles, a bioengineer at the University of Utah.

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So far, researchers have created patches of tissue that mimic portions of certain organs but haven’t managed to replicate the complexity or cell density of a full organ. But it’s possible that in some patients, even a patch would be an effective treatment. At the end of 2016, a company called Organovo announced the start of a program to develop 3-D printed liver tissue for human transplants.

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Due to hurdles with adding vasculature and many other challenges that still face 3-D–printed tissues, laboratory-built organs won’t be available for transplant anytime soon. In the meantime, 3-D printing portions of tissue is helping accelerate both basic and clinical research about the human body.

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