Dean Kamen, the inventor of the electric, self-balancing people mover known as the Segway, is executing a plan to make factories that can crank out human organs. And while these human organ factories are still in nascent stages of development, there appears to be a decent amount of progress being made. Enough progress, in fact, for Kamen to confidently predict that printing organs like eyes or hearts—or at the very least pieces of them—will be considered trivial medicine within a decade.
Kamen (pronounced as kay-man), recently spoke to OneZero about his plans for mass production of human organs. In the article, which comes via Gizmodo, Kamen discusses how he’s gone about assembling his organ factory by synthesizing experts from numerous fields related to bioengineering.
At the DoD Manufacturing Institute attendees can get a virtual reality tour of ARMI's Tissue Foundry Line created by @ROKAutomation. The output of the line is this bone-ligament-bone construct. #steltechnologies #regenerativemedicine #manufacturing #DoD pic.twitter.com/DHO9rjxqpk— ARMI & BioFabUSA (@armi_usa) December 4, 2019
As of right now, Kamen is using funds from an $80 million Department of Defense contract, as well as about $220 million from other sources, to build out the Advanced Regenerative Manufacturing Institute (ARMI). ARMI has the stated goal of making “practical the large-scale manufacturing of engineered tissues and tissue-related technologies, to benefit existing industries and grow new ones.” The nonprofit institute is made up of an amalgam of companies, research institutions, and other related entities. All of them work on some aspect of organ production.
OneZero notes that while there are lots of other scientists working on growing human organs, ARMI is different in that it’s “making the tools and machinery to mass-produce those organs….” (Pending FDA approval.) In an unrelated interview from 2017 (immediately below), Kamen gives a more complete sense of how he wants to create “an industry of spare parts for humans.”
ARMI’s first prototype factory—or at least what could be considered its first factory—is being housed in the historic Amoskeag Millyard, which is pictured below. The Millyard, which lines both sides of New Hampshire’s Merrimack River, is made up of a series of renovated old mills that have been turned into offices, restaurants, and other commercial spaces.
ARMI’s Millyard factory now includes teams working on everything from 3D bioprinters that can make scaffolds for organs to 3D printers that can produce cells of all types, including bone, muscle, and even insulin-producing beta cells. One Kentucky-based company that has set up a satellite office at the Millyard, Advanced Solutions, is working on a “BioAssembly Bot” or BAB. OneZero notes that engineers are already using BAB (below) to take cells from belly fat and turn them into blood vessels; as well as vascularize a liver.
Even though it’s currently impossible to say how long it’ll be before human organ production becomes commonplace, the evidence seems to overwhelmingly point to it happening at some point. OneZero points out, for example, that the first bladder grown outside of somebody’s body was implanted into a patient back in 1999. There have also been numerous other successful bioprinting projects, including one that tackled the human ear, and one that made “mini livers.”
It's day 3 of the TEMPtation game and it's not too late to play! Discover the world of regenerative medicine and tissue engineering, and you may get a chance to chat 1 on 1 with inventor Dean Kamen. Click this link to play: https://t.co/Mq9mOUdX3e #regenmed #BioFabUSA #Medicine— ARMI & BioFabUSA (@armi_usa) June 10, 2020
Moving forward, it seems like Kamen and ARMI are full steam ahead on putting into place the machinery that will be required to mass produce 3D-printed organs. The 69-year-old serial entrepreneur told OneZero that “If a project doesn’t pass the threshold of ‘wow, if it works, that’s a really big idea,’ we don’t do it.” He added that he never takes on a project simply because he could make a buck, because “Life’s too short for that.”
What do you think about Kamen, ARMI, and this effort to develop “an industry of spare parts for humans”? Do you have any guesses as to when this tech will actually become ubiquitous? Let us know what you’re thinking in the comments!
Feature image: Philip Ezze