United Therapeutics unveils advanced 3D printed human lung scaffolds
A lung-mimicking air sac that was 3d printed in water-based gel.
By Davide Sher
United Therapeutics Corporation (Nasdaq: UTHR), a public benefit corporation working in partnership with 3D Systems Corporation (NYSE: DDD) has produced the world’s most complex 3D printed object – a human lung scaffold – and demonstrated it at the LIFE ITSELF Conference in San Diego. The event was organized and hosted by Dr. Sanjay Gupta and Marc Hodosh and was sponsored by CNN, United Therapeutics, and other prominent corporate leaders in healthcare.
Dr. Martine Rothblatt, United Therapeutics’ Chairperson and Chief Executive Officer and Chuck Hull, 3D Systems’ Co-Founder, Executive Vice President, and Chief Technology Officer for Regenerative Medicine, explained to conference attendees during a presentation entitled What’s the Future of Organ Transplantation? that these 3D printed human lung scaffolds designs consisted of a record 44 trillion voxels that layout 4,000 kilometers of pulmonary capillaries and 200 million alveoli.
Scientists at United Therapeutics plan to cellularize these 3D printed human lung scaffolds with a patient’s own stem cells to create tolerable, transplantable human lungs that should not require immunosuppression to prevent rejection. This latest achievement represents the latest milestone of an ongoing research project that was first made public in 2018.
“Last week, it was exciting to show the public our 3D printed human lung scaffold, but we’re thrilled to share that our 3D printed lung scaffolds are now demonstrating gas exchange in animal models. We are regularly printing lung scaffolds as accurately as driving across the United States and not deviating from a course by more than the width of a human hair,” said Dr. Rothblatt. “With the continued hard work of dedicated scientists and engineers at United Therapeutics and 3D Systems, we hope to have these personalized, manufactured lungs cleared for human trials in under five years.”
Dr. Rothblatt continued, “Our goal is to create an unlimited supply of transplantable lungs in the future. Even today, we are using a process called ex-vivo lung perfusion to add to the supply of transplantable lungs by extending by several hours the period of assessment and viability for human donor lungs, resulting in over 230 lives extended to date.”
According to the U.S. Health Resources and Services Administration, 2,524 patients in the U.S. received a lung transplant in 2021 and there are 1,075 patients on the U.S. lung transplant waiting list as of June 3, 2022. More than 150,000 Americans die from lung disease each year.
“The reveal at LIFE ITSELF represents the culmination of our efforts with United Therapeutics that includes not only 3D printed lungs, but two additional organs under development, kidneys and livers,” said Mr. Hull. “These lung designs can be printed in as little as three weeks using our latest advanced photopolymer-based bioprinting technology we call Print to Perfusion.” The 3D printed human lung scaffolds are only the first breath towards the future of 3D printed organs.
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