Anthony Atala, a surgeon and tissue regeneration specialist, prints a biocompatible model of a human kidney on stage at the 2011 TED conference
"It's like baking a cake," said Atala of the Wake Forest University at Technology, Entertainment, Design (TED) conference in the California city of Long Beach, while demonstrating his colleagues how the new technology works.
The basis of the groundbreaking technology is a combination of cultured human cells and scaffolding built from organic material that may not be rejected by the human body.
In one of the methods developed by Atala and his colleagues, the scientists make a 3-D image of the target organ such as kidney that needs replacing, then a tissue sample about half the size of postage stamp is used to seed the computerized process and build the organ layer by layer by a printer.
Ninety percent of patients on the organ donation list are waiting for kidneys, said Atala while showing features of a miniature functional kidney.
The experts possibly prefer to use young cells from a very specific organs and not stem cells or cells from other tissues as the original cells already know which organ they should develop, Atala explained. However, to generate nerve, heart, liver and pancreas tissue, scientists still need stem cells.
Patients' own stem cells are the first candidates for developing an organ; if not available, however, scientists prefer to use donated stem cells derived from placenta or amniotic fluid that would less likely be rejected or make tumors.
The new tissue regeneration system is still experimental and needs time before it could be widely used, the lead scientist noted.