Synthesizing Artificial Organs: The Future of Transplantations
Biomedical engineering is the marriage and offspring of engineering and medicine. As the name would suggest, the field revolves around developing and producing medical devices. A medical device, however, is a rather broad term in regards to this field beca use everything from catheters, to cochlear implants, to prosthetic arms falls under this category. In addition, an up and coming sub-field of biomedical engineering is that of tissue engineering. Tissue engineering is the development of new tissues either from a person's own cells, donated cells, or STEM cells. One recent achievement in the field of tissue engineering includes the development of of artificial bladders. In the mid-2000s, Wake Forest University was able to synthesize several urinary bladders were grown "from… patients' own cells" (Irwin). The artificial organs were then able to be successfully implanted into the patients and in actuality are projected to last these thankful patients their lifetimes.
This was a marked improvement over the first artificial organ: the Jarvik Heart. The Jarvik Heart was developed in the late 80s. However, unlike the artificial urinary bladders recently developed at Wake Forest University, the Jarvik heart was not intended to be a permanent replacement. In fact, for a Jarvik Heart to last over a year would be a feat. Another way that the Jarvik heart differs from the artificial bladders is that the Jarvik heart is not made with any tissue. Rather, it is a pump made up of simply a " direct-current motor, a rotor suppor ted by two ceramic bearings, and a single moving part: a small, spinning titanium impeller" that pumps blood the same way that water is pumped through the sewage system or gas is pumped into cars (Jarvik). Further, while the Jarvik heart mimics the constru ction and functions of a natural heart, it cannot be utilized for long. Therefore, the Jarvik heart can only serves as a temporary placeholder for those waiting for a heart transplant (Jarvik).
While artificial organ technology is advancing, donated organs are the most reliable replacement. Unfortunately though, there is an extremely limited supply of donated organs since, in order to harvest organs from organ donors, the donor must be brain-dead. It is so difficult to locate decent brain-dead organ donatio n candidates because the most common way for a person to reach such a state is by being involved in a car accident. Since many of the accidents can be so devastating, few victims are still able to donate their organs after their bodies have been through su ch an incident. This puts a restriction on the amount of transplantable organs, a restriction that cannot supply the demand. Thousands of people are on the waiting list for various organs, and tens die per day waiting for an organ transplant. Biomedical engineering gives those in need of a transplant hope. So, while many of the prospective methods of creating artificial organs are presently, only fit to sustain a patient for a few years, biomedical engineers are working diligently to develop organs until they create a product that is capable of sustaining a patient indefinitely.
Eventually though, the scientific and medical communities will face a rather pressing issue. While the number of technologies are ever increasing, resources are always limited. In addition, the more capital that is invested in the development of such products, the higher they will cost once they enter the market. Therefore, it is in the best interest of all for biomedical engineers working in the field of tissue enginee ring to ask themselves, which method of synthesizing artificial organs is the most promising for improving quality of life? By evaluating the economics, sustainability, reliability, performance, and ethics of all of the means of producing artificial organs , the preeminent area of focus can be found.
As a result of concentrating efforts on a specific method of synthesis, such as utilizing STEM cells for the creation of artificial hearts, the quality and speed at which advancements are being made will increas e. Such advancements are instrumental to the longevity of "more than 123,000 men, women, and children [who] currently need lifesaving organ transplants" (Statistics). Strides in the fields of implantation will entirely