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Bioartificial organs are replacement body parts created from biological material. Traditional artificial organs are usually mechanical, and are built from synthetic compounds such as plastic and metal alloy. Bioartificial organs, in contrast, are made from living cells and are grown in a laboratory. These types of replacement organs have many advantages, and may help reduce the dependency on human organ donors.
Every year, may patients die while waiting for an organ transplant. Organs such as the liver, kidney, and lungs are often in very high demand by patients with severe illnesses. Historically, the number of available organ donors has been insufficient to meet the needs of every patient. For a traditional organ transplant to succeed, the donor and patient must be a close biological match. Even when a replacement organ is available, the immune system of the recipient may reject the transplant.
Artificial organs have been designed to solve this problem. Man-made organs, such as kidneys, have been produced since the mid 20th century. A normal artificial organ is constructed from non-biological materials, however. As with transplanted organs, a mechanical artificial body part is prone to rejection by the immune system. In many cases, a man-made organ must be removed because it is treated as "unnatural" by the body.
A bioartificial organ takes a unique approach to bypass these limitations. These types of organs are literally "grown" in a laboratory. To create a bioartificial organ, medical scientists use a sample of a patient's own cells. These extracted cells are stimulated in the lab, and multiply quickly. A container or "scaffolding" is used to guide the cells into the desired arrangement as they reproduce.
Different types of cells can be layered to create complex bioartificial organs. A layer of muscle cells, for instance, may be placed on the outside of the body part to provide a firm exterior. These layers of living cells can be carefully positioned by a laboratory device that resembles an inkjet printer. This device can be programmed to disperse cells in a preset pattern, and enables an organ to be engineered from bottom to top.
The presence of a patient's own cells within a bioartificial organ helps reduce the chances that the body part will be rejected. This type of organ is completely organic, and does not contain man-made materials such as plastics. Again, this feature dramatically improves the chances that an organ will be accepted, and allows a nearly unlimited supply of organs to be created when needed.
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