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This synthetic biology project by design graduate Agatha Haines proposes using animal cells to print hybrid organs that could be implanted into humans to perform tasks like kick-starting the heart in the case of a heart attack.
Agatha Haines graduation project from the RCA's Design Interactions course is called "Circumventive Organs" and illustrates how "Frankenstein-esque hybrid organs could then be put together using cells from different body parts or even different species."
The project is based on bioprinting technology, a type of 3D printing that can construct living tissue using a print head that deposits layers of living cells.
"The ability to replicate and print cells in complex structures could mean different cells with various functions could be put together in new ways to create new organs we would take millions of years to evolve naturally," Haines said.
The designer told Dezeen that she identified particular disorders that she saw "as mechanical faults" and then chose animal organs "purely for functional purposes" to demonstrate how they could be used to prevent or combat these disorders.
Her proposals include a defibrillating organ containing cells from an electric eel that would send an electric pulse to stimulate the heart if it recognises signs of a heart attack.
Another organ featuring muscles from a rattlesnake could be implanted into patients with cystic fibrosis to release mucus from their respiratory system and dispel it through their digestive system.
Cells from the saliva gland of a leech could be used to release an anticoagulant that would help break up brain clots and avoid the onset of a stroke.
Haines produced drawings and models of the organs and a film that shows what it would look like to implant the defibrillating organ in a patient's body.
Responding to the question of how close we are to her proposals becoming reality, Haines said: "Bioprinted organs have not yet been tested in humans, even when made out of human cells, so the possibility of combining multi-species organs which have been bioprinted and surgically implanting them is something that is probably not going to happen for quite a long time."
She points out that, although her project is simply a visual representation of future possibilities, "If we could start viewing ourselves as just another everyday material, then this opens up lots of opportunities for design and change," adding, "if we have the possibility to replicate human material, which consists of many practicable substances then why not go beyond the human body?"