Organovo, a biotech start-up near San Diego, has figured out a method for printing blood vessels. Made from the stem cells of the soon-to-be transplant recipient, the blood vessels are useful in themselves, but they're also a first step toward something even crazy bigger—printing whole organs.
Most organs in the body are filled with veins, so the ability to print vascular tissue is a critical building block for complete organs. The printed veins are about to start testing in animal trials, and eventually go through human clinical trials. If all goes well, in a few years you may be able to replace a vein that has deteriorated (due to frequent injections of chemo treatment, for example) with custom-printed tissue grown from your own cells.
The barriers to full-organ printing are not just technological. The first organ-printing machine will cost hundreds of millions of dollars to develop, test, produce and market. Not to mention the difficulty any company will have getting FDA approval.
Until then, you can pass the time by flipping through this great Wired photo gallery, which takes you through the process from start to finish. Thanks to photographer Dave Bullock for suggesting this on Submitterator.