Work advances on production of human organs

Significant progress continues at major research organizations to develop materials and processes to produce human organs.

Equipment is highly specialized and borrows from inkjet printing to produce three-dimensional shapes. It's a distant—very distant—cousin to 3D printers used for additive manufacturing in the industrial world. A person's own stem cells are used as the printing material, often in conjunction with scaffolds made from bioresorbable plastics that simulate the shape of human organs, such as kidneys.

Advanced bioreactor at Columbia University.

The mechanical aspect of the technology is fairly well developed, but engineers lack knowledge of the complex cell structure within human organs. In the industrial world, 3D printers can work from CAD files to produce parts with intricate internal geometries. In the medical world, the CAD files to drive the bioprinters are the missing link keeping creation of human organs 15 to 20 years from development.

One of the bellwether commercial developments was the introduction of a bioprinting machine from Organovo (San Diego, CA) that can print blood vessels. Ten of the machines have been produced and are being used in research and to help pharmaceutical companies develop human biological disease models in three dimensions.

Organovo is now a publicly held company and is ramping up its capabilities.

It recently moved into a facility with cleanroom space nearly four times larger than its previous site. Cleanroom facilities are used to produce functional human tissues created by Organovo's bioprinting process.

"Organovo's facility expansion provides a state-of-the-art space for our team to drive innovation with our research and development initiatives and supports partnering activities with our bioprinting technologies," said Keith Murphy, chairman and chief executive officer of Organovo. 

Progress also continues at other major research sites:

  • Scientists at the Wake Forest Institute for Regenerative Medicine are working on a project to print skin cells on burn wounds.A laser first scans the wound to create a design file showing where to deposit each cell type. Skin cells are placed in a print cartridge with a material that provides support.
  • Several institutions are working on technologies, often involving specialized polymers, to create the vascular networks needed to support organs such as lungs. Work is taking place at the Laboratory for Bioregenerative Medicine & Surgery at Cornell, Draper Labs, and Case Western Reserve University.
  • Columbia University's Laboratory for Stem Cell and Tissue Engineering is developing advanced bioreactors.
  • The Tissue Microfabrication Lab at the University of Pennsylvania is developing unique micro- and nanofabrication tools to control and measure the adhesive and mechanical environment of cells.

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