Winston-Salem, NC -- Waiting for a transplant is about to become a thing of the past. Instead of taking years, it could take weeks. What we consider as science fiction is now science fact.
A heart valve, muscle, blood vessel, even an ear, just about anything in the body can be re-grown and it's happening in the Piedmont Triad.
Dr. Anthony Atala leads up the effort at the Wake Forest Institute of Regenerative Medicine. He is a pioneer in the field of regenerative medicine, and his research will revolutionize transplants.
"We can use your own cells, make the organ, and put the organ right back into you," says Dr. Atala. "Any type of tissue or organ that can get a disease or be injured would be a candidate for the technology at one point."
Atala says that the number of patients on transplant list has more than doubled in the last year, but the number of transplants has remained flat. He says this new process will help address the shortage.
The other benefit is preventing rejection. Atala says since the process creates your own re-grown organs, rejection and taking medicines for the rest of our life will be a thing of the past.
"So we're making the organ with your own cells, so we put the organ back into you, you will basically not reject the organ. Your body will recognize the organ as your own," says Dr. Atala.
"I've been told by the transplant coordinator that I don't realize I feel bad," says Greg Russell, who has been on the transplant list for a year.
The research means a lot to Greg Russell and his family. "You hear you have a chance to start over that doesn't involve in someone giving you a kidney having to wait for someone to pass away to take a kidney from someone else."
Greg's father has the same kidney disease. Greg worries not just for his father or himself but for his two young daughters.
"That's what I'm very hopeful for, they are young, Atala has years to develop this technology before they'll face anything similar to what I'm facing. Yes, I'm very optimistic that this will pay off for them in the long run."
Doctor Atala believes his research has far-reaching benefits including organs ravaged by cancer.
"Hopefully when you create these new organs, your giving that patient a new chance to actually avoid the environmental factors that will make that cancer come back readily," says Dr. Atala.
The research goes well beyond organs, this year they will start clinical trials on skin replacement to help burn victims and wounded military members. With parts they got from Radio Shack and an ink jet printer, they can repair damaged skin, layer by layer.
"We're going to take a scan of a patient's burn wound. Using the same principle, the printer wants to print a drop of ink, it prints a cell instead." says Atala. "We can actually just lay the cells onto the burn area very much like sodding a field if you will. One of the advantages to regenerative medicine is that can we make these skin graphs and make them be your own without a scar."
Doctor Atala sees a present that most of us only dreamed of as a distant future. "We are doing a better job at keeping people alive longer. The longer you stay alive the more of a chance that your organs will fail. So having a nice ready made organ for these patients would be a good solution."
At this point, Dr. Atala and his group can grow 22 different tissues and organs including your heart, lungs and liver. He has successfully transplanted re-grown bladders into children.
Local Researchers Grow Replacement Penile Erectile Tissue
Regenerating Skin and Limbs at Wake Forest
Medical Breakthrough: Scientists Rebuilt The Bladder
Researchers Hope To Grow Body Parts
Collaboration Established To Advance Regenerative Medicine Research
Researchers Grow Stem Cells from Human Skin
On The Web: Wake Forest Institute For Regenerative Medicine
WFMY News 2