Organ Transplantation – Can Technology Help Solve an Ethical Problem?

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March 12, 2013


Organ transplantation has always been laced with ethical issues. The current demand far exceeds supply, and this leads to issues of justice, and to questions about who should receive available organs. Many potential donors do not have a living will or a signed donor card, leaving the decision of whether their organs should be donated to a surrogate. The issues of cost and medical futility further complicate this already tricky ethical arena.

Since these ethical problems revolve around a shortage of organs, scientists and engineers have been collaborating on a possible solution. What if a person’s own stem cells could be used to generate an organ to replace one that may fail? Such an organ would not require a donor, and because it is generated from the patient’s own cells, the risk of transplant rejection would be very low.

Organs are complex structures, and building new organs from stem cells will not be trivial.  However, some amazing new techniques are already in development. Using stem cells and either artificial “scaffolding” or natural “scaffolding” from cadavers, scientists have created simple organs, including bladders, tracheas, urethras, corneas, skin, and bone. More complex organs, such as the heart or the kidney, will be more difficult to engineer. but these developments give hope that adult stem cells may be part of an ethical solution to a difficult dilemma.

For more information: Growing New Organs

Heather Kuruvilla

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