RALEIGH, N.C. (WNCN) — More than 120,000 people across the United states are waiting for a lifesaving organ transplant, according to the United Network for Organ Sharing, but many of those people will never receive the organ they need.

Now, researchers at NC State are working to find ways to regenerate organs and eventually to save lives.

Researchers in NC State’s Industrial and Systems Engineering department are working toward manufacturing human organs using a 3D printer. They showed us a mold, called a scaffold, for an ear.

Ultimately researchers intend to grow cells within the scaffold’s structure, and create a living ear that can be implanted on someone who needs it, but that’s only the beginning. Engineers from NC State have partnered with researchers at Wake Forest University to work on growing all kinds of organs and tissues.

Pedro Huebner is a Ph.D. Student in NC State’s Industrial and Systems Engineering department. He explained, “My particular field of interest is in the knee joint, so I’m looking at how to regenerate bone in the femur and also cartilage in the knee meniscus.”

Katie Basinger is also a Ph.D. Student in the NC State ISE department. She hopes to eventually use her research to help burn victims. Right now she’s using pig skin in her experiments.

“The idea is to expand the skin over time – over a short period of time and then to be able to put it back on the body,” she said. “Whenever you put this sample back onto the body, the scarring is much less than the current methods that are used now.”

Dr. Richard Wysk, a professor in ISE department, explained, “The next major manufacturing revolution will be manufacturing living products,” adding, “We learn more every day about what’s required to make organs, to make tissues, to expand cells.”

Wysk predicts human organs will be made commercially within 25 years. First, researchers have to perfect the process and make sure every single cell produced is safe. “If we want to make the perfect organ, the perfect tissue the perfect cells, we need to make the right recipe the right formula and automate it so it will reproduce over and over again and we will make defect-free tissues, organs, and cells,” he said.

Dr. Wysk says the regenerated organs would come from a patient’s own cells, so they would not face the risk of rejection they do with organs transplanted from other people .