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Human Achievement of the Day from HumanProgress.org: Organ Replacement Technology

We are only three days away from Human Achievement Hour (March 29, 8:30pm to 9:30pm)! What better way to celebrate than with a post from our friends at HumanProgress.org. Stephanie Rugolo, HumanProgress’s managing editor, is spreading the good news about how far humankind has come by discussing some of the recent developments in organ replacement technology. Since this is a perfect example of how technological advancement benefits human life on earth, I wanted to share her insights:

Medical breakthroughs are giving hope to hundreds of thousands of people waiting for organ transplants. There are 120,000 people waiting for organ transplants in the United States alone. By this time tomorrow, twenty to thirty Americans will die because they cannot get a new kidney—not to mention other organs. Compare this man-made shortage to Iran where organ donors may be compensated with cash. In contrast to the United States, there is a donor waiting list in Iran. As long as the industrialized world rejects the Iranian model, we must turn to innovation to resolve the organ shortage crisis. Luckily, scientists are developing technologies that might accomplish just that.

French doctors implanted the first permanent and completely artificial heart in December. The lucky Frenchman was a 76 year old with terminal heart failure. Carmat, the company that engineered the artificial heart, intended their product for terminally ill patients like him who are too old to have any chance of receiving a human heart. Without the implant, the French patient may have lived for a few more days or possibly weeks—if lucky. Since he was the first person to be fitted with the artificial novelty, the operation would have been considered a success if he had lived for another month. With the Carmat’s artificial heart, this patient lived for another two and a half months before passing away in March 2014.  Carmat expects its heart to allow future patients to live for up to an additional five years. That could provide a normal social life to some 100,000 people in need of a new heart in the United States and Europe alone.

Last month, University of Texas scientists announced that they grew human lungs in a lab for the first time. This is a huge breakthrough considering the lung is probably the most complex of all organs in terms of cell types, according to UT researchers. Unfortunately, the use of lab-grown lungs as transplants in humans is as many as five to ten years away. When this technology reaches a mature stage, it will save thousands of lives, such as the 1,600 Americans who are waiting for a lung transplant today. Until then, these lab-grown lungs can be used by scientists and researchers to evaluate lung cells and better understand agents that target and damage the lung. Consequently, this new technology has the potential to improve the lives of those who suffer or will suffer from ailments like pneumonia, hemorrhagic fever, tuberculosis, or hantavirus.

Organovo, a San Diego-based company, made great advances in 3D printing of a human liver in the past year. This technological innovation could make it possible for the hundreds of thousands of people at death’s door while waiting for organ transplants to press ‘print’ and live. The life-saving process of 3D bio-printing involves layering sheets of live cells. The snag, it seems, is to keep 3D-printed organs “alive” for long periods of time. The 3D-printed liver, for example, has stayed alive in a lab for 40 days—a major breakthrough—and the outlook is optimistic for a functional 3D-printed liver this year. Like the lab-grown lungs, it will only be used in research for now. Luckily, that will speed up medical studies and drug research while making research results more accurate.  Watch the fascinating process of 3D printing an organ here.

Organ transplant recipients will directly benefit from medical advances that circumvent today’s shortage-inducing laws. As these technologies are used to speed up research, other medical advances will allow ever more people to live longer, fuller lives. This is timely to note considering that on March 29, from 8:30 – 9:30 p.m., we will mark the Human Achievement Hour, which pays tribute to human innovations that improve our lives. In honor of that Hour, many thanks to the researchers who develop technologies that facilitate human progress.

Stephanie Rugolo is the Managing Editor of HumanProgress.org.

About Human Achievement Hour (HAH): Human Achievement Hour is about paying tribute to the human innovations that allow people around the globe to live better, fuller lives, while also defending the basic human right to use energy to improve the quality of life of all people. Human Achievement Hour is the counter argument to Earth Hour, and promotes looking to technology and innovation to help solve environmental problems instead of reverting to the “dark ages,” by symbolically refusing to use electricity for an hour.