How the founder of SiriusXM wants to tackle an organ shortage with 3D-printed hearts and lungs

After creating the satellite-radio industry and developing a drug for her daughter's serious disease, Martine Rothblatt is leading her biotech to test another boundary of what's possible. 

The 68-year-old entrepreneur's newest mission is to create an endless supply of organs. Her company, the $12 billion Maryland-based biotech United Therapeutics, has already put gene-edited pig hearts, lungs, and kidneys into humans in clinical studies. Rothblatt now hopes to start making organs with 3D printing to solve the organ-supply crisis, with over 100,000 Americans on waiting lists for transplants.

"At the end of this century, people will be astonished that just because their kidney, or their lung, or their heart gave out, it's game over," Rothblatt said in a 2019 interview. "If you lose a tire on your car, you're not going to trash your car. You're going to buy another tire." 

Rothblatt's team at United Therapeutics has transplanted genetically edited organs from pigs into humans. In September 2021, the first pig-kidney transplant functioned in a brain-dead human. This January, a 59-year-old man survived two months after receiving a pig-heart transplant.

"This is a watershed event," Dr. David Klassen, chief medical officer of the United Network for Organ Sharing, which isn't involved with United's research, told The New York Times at the time of the heart transplant. "Doors are starting to open that will lead, I believe, to major changes in how we treat organ failure."

Earlier research is underway to 3D-print scaffolds of organs like lungs, hearts, and kidneys. These scaffolds could then be filled with a patient's own stem cells and transplanted into their body. Rothblatt unveiled a lung scaffold earlier this year, calling it the world's most complex 3D-printed object

"I believe this past year we have proven that genetically modified xenografts and lab-cellularized organ scaffolds are practically doable," Rothblatt said on a November 2 earnings call with Wall Street analysts. 

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