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Solving The Organ Donor Shortage

With Jane Clayson in for Tom Ashbrook.

Are lab grown blood vessels, hearts and lungs the answer to the nation’s organ donor shortage? We’ll look at the brave new science.

Murnaghan Family

Sarah Murnaghan, center, celebrates the 100th day of her stay in Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia with her father, Fran, left, and mother, Janet. (AP Photo/Murnaghan Family)

Last week 10 year-old Sarah Murnaghan’s family made headlines when they won their fight for a coveted pair of lungs for their daughter stricken with Cystic Fibrosis.  But what about all the other’s waiting on the organ transplant lists?

Life-saving organs are in short supply.  The solution may be to grow the parts we need in the lab.  Print blood values on 3-D printers.   Create windpipes hearts and lungs  tailor-made with a patient’s own cells.

This hour, On Point: the brave new world of growing body parts.


Malcolm Ritter, science reporter for the Associated Press, focusing on biological research news. (@MalcolmRitter)

Christopher Breuer, co-director of the Tissue Engineering Program at Nationwide Children’s Hospital, director of Tissue Engineering in the Ohio State University Wexner Medical Center’s new Center for Regenerative Medicine and Cell Based Therapies.

George Annas, professor of Health Law, Bioethics and Human Rights at the Boston University School of Public Health.

On Jane’s Reading List

ABC News: Girl Recovering in Hospital After Lung Transplant Controversy – “The 10-year-old girl whose family successfully fought a rule preventing her from qualifying for adult lungs was in recovery after she received a lung transplant from an adult donor, according to a family statement.”

Associated Press: To Ease Shortage Of Organs, Grow Them In A Lab? – “But what if there were another way? What if you could grow a custom-made organ in a lab? It sounds incredible. But just a three-hour drive from the Philadelphia hospital where Sarah got her transplant, another little girl is benefiting from just that sort of technology. Two years ago, Angela Irizarry of Lewisburg, Pa., needed a crucial blood vessel. Researchers built her one in a laboratory, using cells from her own bone marrow.”

The Daily Mail: The remarkable images that show how scientists are now able to PRINT entire body parts such as ears and noses – “Although experts say it will be some time until they are able to grow entire functioning organs, bioengineers are already able to grow and use new blood vessels in patients. And they are now closer to being able to offer patients replacement ears and noses.”

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  • sickofthechit

    Sign and get your license witnessed today.

  • Jon Dreyer

    The one thing that should change immediately is that organ donor status should be opt-out rather than opt-in. Opt-in favors the the dead; opt-out favors the living.

    • Trond33

      No, that would dictate that the state has some sort of right to your body.  It would raise all sorts of Constitutional and ethical questions.  In such a world, what would keep someone from killing another person because they or a relative needs an organ.  Knowing the organs would become available, its just a question of finding a suitable match.  

      No country has an opt-out system and I seriously doubt any country ever would implement such a system. 

      • rebecca_11

        24 European countries have some form of an opt-out system, including Spain, Belgium, and Austria.

        In opt-out, people are presumed to be donors unless they have taken steps to opt-out. Opting out is still an option. It’s the opposite of our opt-in where people are presumed NOT to be donors unless they have taken steps to declare themselves donors.

        In an opt-out system, if nearly everyone who dies from accidents is a presumed organ donor, there would be no need to murder anyone for an organ. There would already be so many available organs that a match would be likely.

        • LetsGetReal

          He’s already taking his erroneous “facts” and fear-mongering to where it will best resonate: a US audience – a people of evolution and climate change deniers, gunslingers, and godbotherers ;-)

  • Wm_James_from_Missouri
  • MadMarkTheCodeWarrior

    At a time of great loss, one can give the ultimate gift to another: life – sign up to donate.

    So many people die tradgic, meaningless deaths. Add meaning to yours or that of a loved one. Save someone sitting on a list days away from death; give them a second chance.

  • http://www.facebook.com/futo.buddy Futo Buddy

    as 3d printing improves it will create better printed organs and guns. it will be like that thing on startrek

    • JobExperience

       Why waste time and energy printing something as primitive as a gun?

      • http://www.facebook.com/futo.buddy Futo Buddy

        I have not seen any good printable phasers or any  phasers, yet .  whats nice about the potential of 3d printing is it will make it cheap and easy to do so.  these printed guns are actually on the cutting edge of technology. are you one of these people who don’t like guns?

        • jefe68

          Yes, I don’t like them. Just what our society needs, more guns.

          • http://www.facebook.com/futo.buddy Futo Buddy

            are you job experience jefe? we already know you have an irrational fear of  inanimate objects. oboma wants us unarmed but wants people in the middle east to have more guns because that’s apparently what they need there

  • AC

    yes, these printers are amazing!!
    how long can we (and should we) live if we can continue to replace ‘parts’ that supply blood and oxygen to the brain?

    • DrewInGeorgia

      You’ve got to be conflicted about this AC, one the one hand you’ve got the cool techie toys and on the other you’ve got the population conundrum. Thankfully, sounds like you’ll have 20+ years to decide which is the true priority. Beyond this, I’m holding my tongue because I find this to be just as sorry an excuse for an Hour One show as yesterday’s was. We might as well be discussing the Hoffa insanity.

      • AC

        there’s not enough food or room for everyone to live forever….we’ll have to use some death squads i think….always back to the death squads…prob only the rich will be able to get away with it…

        • DrewInGeorgia

          You read my mind.
          Survival of the richest.
          Same Silliness Different Day.

  • madnomad554

    I wonder if this technology could grow a replacement colon/large intestine? I mention this because I have Crohn’s disease. Specifically a form of Crohn’s associated with, Granulomatous. Many GI specialists will refer too it as Granulomous Crohn’s. This particular form of Crohn’s, as there are five in all, is particularly devastating, as 80% of those who have this form of Crohn’s will get colon cancer.

    If needed, segments of the colon are removed, but in the worst of cases, the entire colon/large intestine must be removed, resulting in the use of an Ileostomy bag. In other words, the back door is permanently closed.

    So, if this technology can grow a new colon, sign me up.   

  • donniethebrasco

    We have come for your liver.


    • Wahoo_wa

      …but did you bring the fava beans and a nice Chianti?

      • JobExperience

         Bring your refreshments to a vintage screening of Andy Warhol’s “Frankenstein”. (now available at Pirate Bay) Be prepared to pop a few thoracic sutures and experience life fully.

    • Don_B1

      Living Donor Liver Transplantation (LDLT) is regularly performed in several hospitals today. See:


    • 1Brett1

      First, they came for a kidney and you did nothing…

      “We must take back our organs!”

      • JobExperience

        No,, first they came for your balls.

        • 1Brett1


  • creaker

    We’re moving toward a catch-22. Technology providing solutions we can’t afford to implement. Which will eventually eliminate the research to develop these technologies and eventually reduce the cost.

  • Don_B1

    Many times pediatric transplants have to be repeated (hearts, lungs, etc.) because the organ does not grow with the child.

    Would “grown organs” eliminate this problem and grow with the child?

  • Ask2013

    Is there potential here to transplant brain matter that might be absent in children who have cognitive/learning challenges or disabilities, such as in the case of an absent corpus callusum?

    • JobExperience

      Rumor: Ben Carson and Herman Cain are about to open a  brain chain with 57 flavors. You can support them at Kickstarter donating dollars and neurons.

  • AC

    i’m planning on living forever. i want to know what roller coasters are like in 5000 years….

    • JobExperience

       Within ten years roller coaster experiences will be stored on a thumb drive you plug into a slot in your forehead. The physical plants will be abandoned or demolished. Sex will work similarly (for the few who can afford it). By then, you will only  have to live a couple weeks for it to seem like forever.

      • AC

        still sounds like something i wouldn’t mind experiencing!!

  • Jon

    Last caller’s question is really questioning about science in general. Is science really alternating evolution – the law of nature?

    • Don_B1

      What did you mean by using the word “alternating”?

      I can think you might be meaning “altering,” which is true on the details, but not on the overall thrust of the theory. The “Theory of Evolution,” the idea that each form of life in current existence (with the possible exception of simple bacteria — maybe I am using the wrong elementary cell life form) has evolved from previous forms, is subject to the refinement of positions on the “tree of evolved life forms.” And occasionally there will be “major” revisions, moving one life form in time or branch, or creating new branches, but not seriously placing the theory in any doubt. The “Law of Nature” will survive new insights.

      I have not yet found the specific caller’s comment, but I assume it is toward the end of the hour and I will try to do that. If it gives me a new insight into your post, I will try to add to this answer.

      Thank you for calling it to my attention.

      • Jon

        Altering is the correct word. Human activities specifically in science and technology induced behaviors are changing the way of evolution by changing the environments, simply put.

  • JobExperience

    Taken in toto organ transplant fails to make any population healthier. It’s extreme when considered without the prurient veil of individual mercy. Isn’t taking parts from a dead body cannibalism? For the medical community it’s pure hubris..
    For example: None of the recorded 80 hand transplants has been entirely successful. The immunosuppressant regime is destructive of life quality and the human body. In a time of austerity I do not see how these programs make sense outside of billing by hospitals and surgeons. When one considers how the lives and careers of Dick Cheney and Jerry Richardson have been prolonged by heart transplants it all seems perverse to me.

  • JobExperience

    When Tom is gone will we chip in to print a duplicate?
    I see a daisy chain  of Diane Rehm’s like paper dolls.

  • Kristin Majda

    Great conversation! I also think you missed the point of the last caller. Medical technology in general is contributing to an increase in concentration of undesireable alleles in the human gene pool. I would not begrudge anyone a life-saving therapy, but we do need to start thinking about and talking about how we are going to mitigate the evolutionary consequences to our species.

    • Don_B1

      The same thought sequence is applicable to the availability of abortion to those who decide not to raise a child with genetic defects that have implications for health costs for the life of that child and any children that might come with that life.

      But alternately, there is the hope that breakthroughs in knowledge could provide the ability to correct the genetic defects.

      Many times those with genetic defects (e.g., cystic fibrosis, schizophrenia, variants of ALS — Stephen Hawking) have other gifts that may well be related to their genes that are worth keeping in the gene pool.

      Random combinations of genes is what has put the species Homo sapiens sapiens on this planet. Making arbitrary (or not) decisions on survival may not be in the best interest of future species with even greater powers.

    • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=8641403 Zorphie Zorro

      Not everyone who’s born with a birth defect has “faulty genes.” Besides, we all carry around some faulty genes. A lot of it is just luck of the draw.  

  • Trond33

    In an age of increased scarcity, is increased organ availability ethical?  Especially the U.S. has to make some serious decisions about organ transplants.  Should insurance or the government pickup the tab, often in the hundreds of thousands of dollars, for transplants to individuals who have limited life spans left?  Say transplants to 80 year olds?  Or transplants to smokers or alcoholics who have not changed their ways?  Or transplants where success is under 50%.  

  • Shag_Wevera

    A good free market solution would be to let the poor sell their tissues to the wealthy.

    • MrLongleg

      your are kidding, right??

      • Duras

        That’s what is happening in Russia; a good example of neoliberal capitalism. 

  • The_Truth_Seeker

    Another reason we should stop experimenting on animals!!!

  • The_Truth_Seeker

    The solution to printing dense organs and blood vessels is around the corner (5-10 years).

  • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=8641403 Zorphie Zorro

    Thank you so much for this interesting show today. My son is one of those single ventricle patients that was mentioned on the show. I’ve seen kids spend months, even a year, in a hospital waiting for a donated heart–that doesn’t count the time spent in the hospital recovering from a transplant, and all the other concerns that come with a foreign organ in the body. This offers such an immense hope for so many, and gives people a chance to get a healthy organ AND drastically reduce the time spent in terrible health waiting for one.

  • madnomad554

    There are some childish, insensitive and just plain stupid attitudes towards this opportunity for those in need of this kind of life saving technology. I guess for those who appose this opportunity are suggesting they would be OK if society turned a blind eye, if they themselves needed a new organ or life saving body part. I guess if your spouse or 10 year old child is in need, you’ll just look at them and say, “hey, society can’t afford to give you a new stomach or liver or esophagus, so we’ll just chuck you into the ground.”

    This society has no problem creating $30 million dollar per year athletes, $50 million dollar per film movie stars. Rock stars making $60 million per year, hell Elvis Presley has been dead for 50 years and he still makes $40 million per year!!! These kinds of people make hundreds and hundreds of millions of dollars every tens years, all compliments of the typical MASS consuming American.

    No organ transplant comes close to that kind of money. The guy that does the Iron Man movies got paid $50 million for this last one. How many transplants would that pay for??

    It’s pathetic to hear of anybody kick this kind of help and technology too the curb. 


  • Duras

    An opt-out system seems like the obvious policy to help the problem.  Why we don’t have one is perplexing. 

  • nprlistener21

    For the caller whose wife is struggling with Crohn’s Disease, in the absence of a cure, I would suggest getting the book Listen To Your Gut by Jini Patel Thompson.  She offers a revolutionary, commonsense approach to treating Crohn’s Disease.  I have Crohn’s Disease and it worked wonders for me. 

    • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=1134011166 Brad Harris

      Also, check out the website Crohnology. It’s a social network for IBD people. 

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