New Era in Medicine with Artificial Organs

New Era in Medicine with Artificial Organs

Fear. Hopelessness. Dread. One becomes accustomed to such feelings after being stuck on the waiting list for organ transplant for more than a year. Around the world, the number of people in need of organ transplant is gradually increasing, surpassing the list of organ donors. Hence, many have lost their lives, stuck in the waiting list, hoping for a new heart.   

All organs in our bodies perform a specialized functions. Therefore, each organ is vital for our survival. So what happens when one of these organs fail or is are damaged? Humans can’t grow or replace lost tissues unlike geckos who can regenerate their lost limbs. However, human organ regeneration is limited mainly to the liver.    

For decades, the only solution for this problem has been organ transplantation. But the demand for organs far exceeds the existing number of donors, which causes the waitlists for most transplants to be quite long. Moreover, transplants are highly risky surgical procedures and may not always be successful as many complications may arise during and after surgery. Moreover, it can be very difficult to find a “donor match” which will be compatible with the patient’s body.

However, recent advancements in Medicine suggest in the near future, the need for organ transplant would soon diminish over time. The world is moving forward and gradually we are arriving to an era of artificial organs

An artificial organ is a man-made collection of tissues a device that is implanted or integrated into a patient to replace a natural organ in his body, in order to duplicate or augment a specific function   or functions in a way that the patient may return to a his/her day-to-day life as soon as possible     . Artificial limbs, replacement bones and joints, such as those found in hip replacements, could be considered as the most common examples for artificial organs. Today, the field of medicine has made unprecedented advances in this regard and they have the potential of eradicating the problems arising through organ transplantation.

Advances in Tissue Engineering
One of the main medical advances is the use of stem cells. While applications for stem cells are somewhat limited, studies, which have been done with stem cells, have proven that it is   possible to grow organs in a lab, which could then be implanted.

The field of tissue engineering is making excellent breakthroughs. Scientists hypothesize that this progress in tissue engineering brings the promise of custom-made organs   that could not only keep pace with demand, but also avoid rejection since the organs could be made with the patient’s own cells  .

Tissue engineering combines the use of cells, organ scaffolds, and biosynthetic materials to improve or replace organs and tissues in the body. Researchers are most focused on stem cells as they are very important for their ability to “grow up” into any kind of cell in the body, which in turn enables them to be quite useful for many medical treatments.

Marvel of 3D Printing
Medical advancements have enabled the use of three dimensional printing (which is referred to as 3D bioprinting in medicine) in manufacturing artificial organs. Scientists have made remarkable achievements through this emerging technique.

Up to now, several organs including a replacement of a tibia has already been implanted into a patient, a thyroid gland and a patch of heart cells that actually beat have been successfully 3D-bioprinted by scientists. Many improvements to this process can be expected in the years to come.

Together with 3D bioprinting and other technologies that allows the production of synthetic organs, such innovations, could become the answer to the problem of donor shortages that we are currently facing. The future of regenerative medicine includes synthetic organs that could easily, affordably, and reliably be manufactured for patients in need.

Controversy of Artificial Organs
As in the case of most technological advancements, artificial organs pose certain ethical concerns. Many of these concerns are caused especially by the Total Artificial Heart (TAH) as the heart is an organ with great emotional, symbolic, or religious meaning for most people. 

In addition, the questions of who should and who can have access to this treatment become critical. Therefore, ethically determining and providing access to care, equitable allocation of resources and developing criteria for use in clinical trials and routine medical practice are challenges that needs to successfully handled. 

Furthermore, protecting individual patients' autonomy in the context of clinical trials and routine use is pivotal and these issues include the informed consent process, use of advance directives and funding as a means of promoting appropriate clinical investigation. 

By Thisari Andria

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