Organ bioprinting moves out of science fiction phase

November 14, 2011

Venture capitalists have pumped $3.5 million of new money into a California startup that is working to create tissue on demand for research and surgical applications using bioprinters.

Organovo (San Diego, CA) is developing the NovoGen bioprinting process that permits precise placement of cell and gel materials on three-dimensional scaffolds made of bioresorbable polymers.

The first production bioprinter was developed by Organovo and Invetech.

The NovoGen MMX is described as the world's first commercially available production model bioprinter.

Some experts feel that printed replacement parts such as vertebral disks may be ready for human trials within five years. Full-fledged organs such as livers or lungs are probably more than 20 years off, if possible at all. Hundreds, if not thousands, of scientists are working on the concept at places like Draper Lab, Wake Forest University, Cornell University, Case Western Reserve University, the University of Pittsburgh  and the University of South Carolina.

Liver cells on scaffold

"Scientists and engineers can use the 3D bioprinters to enable placing cells of almost any type into a desired pattern in 3D," says Keith Murphy, CEO of Organovo. "Researchers can place liver cells on a preformed scaffold, support kidney cells with a co-printed scaffold, or form adjacent layers of epithelial and stromal soft tissue that grow into a mature tooth. Ultimately the idea would be for surgeons to have tissue on demand for various uses, and the best way to do that is get a number of bioprinters into the hands of researchers and give them the ability to make three dimensional tissues on demand."

Organovo selected Invetech in 2009 as its partner to help develop a bioprinter that includes two print heads, one for placing human cells, and the other for placing a hydrogel, scaffold, or support matrix. One of the challenges in development of the printer was the ability to repeatedly position the capillary tip (attached to the print head) to within microns. This was essential to ensure that the cells are placed in exactly the right position.

Regenerative medicine

Fred Davis, president of Invetech, says: "Building human organs cell-by-cell was considered science fiction not that long ago. Through this clever combination of technology and science we have helped Organovo develop an instrument that will improve people's lives, making the regenerative medicine that Organovo provides accessible to people around the world."

Last year, Organovo  announced development of the first fully bioprinted blood vessels using the  NovoGen MMX Bioprinter.

Dr. Craig Kent, chief of surgery at the University of Wisconsin and an Organovo Scientific Advisory Board Member commented, "Success in an effort like this could eventually help tens of thousands of patients." The blood vessels are printed from the elements of native arteries: primary endothelial, smooth muscle and fibroblast cells from human donors.


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