Over the past three decades, the field of 3D bioprinting has emerged, creating endless possibilities for scientific progress. However, there are significant ethical dilemmas that come with this contemporary technology. One of the significant dichotomies in the bioprinting community is caused by those who support the idea of printing organs and those who do not.
Throughout the history of organ transplantation, the process has been and continues to be vitiated by the lack of available organs and the long waiting lists for patients to receive a transplant. Currently, about 20 people die every day while on the waiting list . Although it may seem as though bioprinting is the solution to the organ shortage epidemic, there are ethical concerns to this supposed panacea.
When the first bioprinted organ is successfully manufactured, the question will arise: will this new technology only benefit the rich? This may very well be a reality of this nascent industry: bioprinters are exorbitantly expensive, as are the materials and scientific precision required to successfully print a functional human organ. In the last five to ten years, the 3D printing industry has increased to a $100 million-dollar price range, making certain bioprinters decidedly unavailable to the general populace and creating a socioeconomically stratified hierarchy out of waiting lists . In response to these prices, smaller desktop bioprinters, such as SE3D’s r3bel X and r3bel mini bioprinters, have made bioprinters much more accessible and affordable.The prices for more expensive bioprinters do not even include the cost for supplies, which would inflate the total cost even more, depending on the availability and cost of biological materials such as stem cells, proteins, and growth factors. Furthermore, the costs for production and transplantation have yet to be accounted for.
Despite the efforts of companies, such as the biotech startup Allevi, who have pledged to make this technology more accessible to the average person , the biologic medical products needed to create bioprinted organs cost a great deal to engineer and utilize, meaning that there is probably no immediate or feasible way to subsidize their prices. As of now, it is likely that when the applications of this new technology come to fruition, the wealthy will be the only ones who benefit from and receive priority for bioprinted human organs. Although these prices will scale down and equalize in the future, at least for the present, the question remains: will bioprinting only benefit the rich?
[Images: Wake Forest Institute for Regenerative Medicine]
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2. Lewis, Tim. (2017, July 30). Could 3D printing solve the organ transplant shortage? Retrieved from https://www.theguardian.com/technology/2017/jul/30 /will-3d-printing-solve-the-organ -transplant-shortage.
3. Dill, Kathryn. (2016, November 10). Inside The Company That Wants To Put A $10,000 3D Bioprinter On Every Lab Bench. Retrieved from https://www.forbes.com/sites/ kathryndill/2016/11/02/inside-the- company-that-wants-to-put-a-10000-3d- bioprinter-on-every- lab-bench/#1d2f5f95df30.