Every 10 minutes, a patient is added to the organ transplant waiting list without any idea of how long that wait will be. If you’re lucky, you might receive an organ that day. But for most, it’s highly possible you will be waiting for years. Look down at your driver’s license. Around 45% of motorists are registered organ donors. People are dying at an alarming rate, just waiting for someone else’s misfortune to allow them to survive. We see this agonizing wait period happen all of the time, in real life, even in our favorite movie or TV show. Not only is this counterintuitive, but it raises controversy for many individuals who do not believe in donating their organs once they have no use for them. Additive manufacturing gives us the opportunity to not only save lives, but to do so without detracting from the desire to save someone else’s life.
This should never be an ethical issue doctors or patients have to worry about. It shouldn’t come down to the opinion of another person to save your life. A study done in Australia revealed that parents would refuse to donate their children’s organs if they still had a beating heart but were pronounced brain dead by professionals. No parent should have to choose if their child should be taken off life support to grant another person a second chance at life. It isn’t fair to force this sacrifice.
The possible solution? Additive manufacturing. This might sound like an impossible fix, but the truth is, the medical field has already been working on this for years. They have developed ways to recreate human organs using bio-ink, which is made from stem cells that hold the same functionality as a donated organ. With additive manufacturing, precise positioning of biological materials with spatial control of the placement of all functional components is used to fabricate a safe transplant. With an increased interest in finding alternative ways to gain access to functioning organs, 3D printing can one day save your life.
Not only will this give people the ability to get organs specifically constructed for them, but it can cut down the number of deaths we see from having to wait for the perfect match. About 21 Americans die every day just waiting for a donation to be finalized. Why hasn’t there been more push for this technology? No one has a good answer for this except that it takes time and money, but so does everything else worth doing, right?
Strides have been made in the right direction. There has been significant progress in research and studies are being conducted, but it’s not enough. This is not a problem that is going away soon and neither is the reluctance from organ donors. Death should not be the only way to save lives, and we need to put everything we can into ensuring a better future. Rhode Island has health care innovation initiatives for “improving patient care and health outcomes.” Providing custom-made organs to transplant patients will help in both of these initiatives. 3D printing of organs should be a hot topic being discussed in the various meetings with donors in an effort to solve this problem.
A step forward would be to educate the public about the benefits of additive manufacturing with regards to the medical field and saving lives. Through large social media platforms such as Instagram and Facebook, the voices of respected influencers can form charities and grants to local hospitals and schools. Press conferences can be held. Potential government initiatives and corporate fundraising can begin only if people become more aware of all the benefits additive manufacturing has for recreating organ structure. We need to start fundraising now so one day your kid can go to a college like the University of Rhode Island, where they can pursue a career in the medical field to help eliminate the donation of organs with the use of additive manufacturing.
Think about it — by the year 2050, organ donation will be ancient history and customizable organs will take over as the norm. Although this is a positive change, it will only be possible if the health care industry is given the opportunity to further this process. If the statistics alone aren’t enough to convince you that this is a problem, look at the clock and think — what if in 10 minutes your name was added to the waiting list?
The writers are students of the College of Business at the University of Rhode Island majoring in various disciplines.