Organ factory: Pioneer wants to produce lungs and more from the 3D printer

When US entrepreneur Martine Rothblatt flew in to West Point for a science meeting in 2015, she landed her helicopter herself. The flight performance of the enthusiastic pilot was in the Guinness Book of Records at the time. At West Point, however, she wanted to discuss technologies that could improve the availability of transplant organs. Her arrival also raised associations with the delivery of an organ packed in dry ice, arriving just in time to save someone’s life.

Her personal story is as dramatic as Rothblatt’s appearance. She was already a successful entrepreneur in the satellite industry when her daughter, Jenesis, was diagnosed with a fatal lung disease. She then founded the biotech company United Therapeutics to develop drugs that are now helping many patients like Jenesis survive. However, since her daughter may one day need a lung transplant despite the medication, Rothblatt has decided to solve this problem as well. She wants to develop technologies to create an “unlimited supply of transplantable organs”.

The need is great. There are approximately 100,000 people on the transplant waiting list in the United States at any given time. Even with a record 41,356 transplants in the US last year, 6,897 people died while waiting. Many thousands more never made the list. According to the German Foundation for Organ Transplantation, 8,500 people in Germany are waiting for a new organ.

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