JEDDAH — “Only 10 percent of all drugs that go to clinical trials get through the process, at a high
cost of over $1.5 billion per drug that is tested. This is due to the higher chances of inaccuracy if
drugs are tested on tissue culture and rodents. Through the $24 million ‘Lab in a Chip’ programme,
3D printing technology is using patients’ cells, reproducing them to help study how the cells and
organs of real patients respond to the drugs,” said Dr. Anthony Atala, W.H. Boyce Professor and
Director of the Wake Forest Institute for Regenerative Medicine, and Chair of the Department of
Urology at Wake Forest School of Medicine in North Carolina.
In his talk titled ‘What Comes after 3D Printing Body Parts?’ on day three of the World Government
Summit 2016, Atala shared fascinating insights and updates about research that is supporting the
convergence of 3D printing technology with regenerative medicine to help scale the process,
reduce cost significantly and deliver futuristic solutions to complex problems ranging from congenital
absence of organs to the healing of damaged body parts.
Regenerative medicine uses a defined process to create scaffolds for the organ to be regenerated
using surgical materials that eventually dissolve in the body, coat them with cells, and incubate the
cells to allow for regeneration to be completed, before inserting the organ into the body of the recipient.
This process has been used to successfully regenerate skin cells in human beings and is now readily
available in leading hospitals around the world. Owing to the relatively low complexity, flat structures
such as skin that have only one cell type are easier to regenerate. Clinical trials have also been
successful with tubular hollow structures such as blood vessels and non-tubular hollow organs
such as bladder and stomach.
Human testing of the regenerative medicine approach to build solid organs such as the heart and
the stomach, which is the fourth and most complex type of organ is on the horizon.
3D printing technology is integral to this process in creating scaffolds, and building organs one block
at a time so as to recreate a complex network of channels, to replicate the architecture of blood vessels
which lend structural rigidity for the organs to function normally in the long term.
Advanced technology currently being tested will bring 3D printers to the patients’ bedside; scanners will
scan the wound and assess the damage to the affected area before the printer prints using the right cell
type in the right place, with extreme precision.
Atala brought perspective to the relative cost saving that 3D printing will bring to the healing process
through citing the example of regenerative medicine in the treatment of kidney failure. He highlighted
that in comparison to the annual cost of dialysis which is estimated at $250,000, 3D printing could
help regenerate the kidney using the patient’s cells, eliminating the likelihood of organ rejection and
time spent in pursuit of a donor, at a one-time cost of $100,000.
In his concluding remarks, he spoke about the lengthy and expensive regulatory process that presents
significant obstacles in the adoption of this technology and estimates that it will take up to 15 years,
after a successful clinical trial for each stage of the regenerative medicine technology to be made
accessible to patients. — SG
3D Printing key to obtain affordable regenerative medicine