Are artificial organs the future?

Imagine you walk into a waiting-room in hospital switch firmware 8.1.0. You approach the reception, fill out a form, and hand it back to the receptionist. She punches your details into the machine, and prints out a ticket, saying: “Please take a seat. You are number 2500 in the queue.”

This is effectively what is happening for people awaiting organ transplant. Currently in South Africa, there are at least 2500 people on the waiting list. According to information by the LoveLife Organisation, not even one percent of our population is registered as organ donors, which means  if you are on a transplant waiting list – it could be an extremely long wait.

This problem could potentially be solved with artificial organs.

How do they work?

Artificial organs are machines, devices or other materials that can replace the function of a faulty or missing organ, or other part of the human body.

The way we use technology is constantly evolving. Health care systems have found that organ assistance and substitution devices could play a big role in managing patients with end-stage diseases. Artificial organs could also become a bridge to recovery or transplantation.

What has been successfully done?

Recently, researchers at The Pratt School of Engineering at Duke University created an artificial human heart muscle large enough to patch over damage in patients who’ve suffered a heart attack. The end goal: to repair dead heart muscle in human patients.

According to reports, surgeons in Australia have successfully created 3D-bioprinted several organs. This includes a thyroid gland, a tibia (shinbone) replacement that’s already been implanted into a patient, and a patch of heart cells that actually beat.

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Organs in demand

According to a study by Zion Market Research, the artificial organ market is expected to grow from 2017 to 2022 and is a very promising industry which could help with the shortage of organs.

Currently, artificial hearts in America are used as a stopgap before patients receive a biological organ. These artificial hearts are fully functional. One patient was supported for nearly four years with an artificial heart before receiving a successful human heart transplant.

Next up, researchers are set to delve into human trials for artificial kidneys that can challenge end-stage renal disease. Then there’s 3D bio printing technology; another promising area of experimental research which could be used to create replica organs for transplant into humans. It creates complex three-dimensional structures, which can be built with living cells to create real living tissue.

What could this mean for the future?

The number of organ transplants performed in the United States reached a record high in 2016. There were more than 30 000 transplants, an increase of 20% in the past five years.

There are many more waiting people on transplant lists. Sometimes they wait for years; and many die every year waiting for the organs they need. Policymakers, doctors and researchers are exploring new strategies to increase the supply of organs needed to meet the demand.

While there’s a high demand for organs, artificial organs may be just the solution needed to save lives around the world.