San Diego-based company Organovo is getting ready to unveil the world’s first 3D printed human liver next year. The organ will be used for research and drug discovery but the bioprinting company’s vision is to leverage this technology for surgical therapy and transplants.
Bioprinting works in a similar fashion to the 3D printers which use plastic or metal. But instead of printing an iPhone case the end result is an organ. The bioprinter prints layers of material, in this case live tissue instead of ABS, which create a solid physical item.
The biggest hurdle in printing tissues is developing the vascular system required to keep the tissue alive. Without a functioning system providing tissues with the nutrients and oxygen they need to survive the printed tissue dies. Organovo says they have overcome these issues.
According to the ComputerWorld, Organovo has printed a liver that is greater than 500 microns thick, the equivalent of 5 stacked sheets paper. But more importantly, they have maintained the live tissue for at least 40 days.
Organovo’s breakthrough is that they have successfully printed living tissues that can be kept alive long enough for research or in the near future to implant in a human body to continue to develop.
The ability to print organs is a game changer for the thousands of people who are on the organ waiting list. But don’t expect it to happen overnight. Once the technology is there, it will need to go through regulatory approvals to make it available. But Organovo’s milestone is a sure sign that we are headed in that direction.
This isn’t the first time we have seen 3D printers used to create human parts. Back in August reports emerged about researchers from Princeton and Johns Hopkins who had printed an ear using cartilage and electronic parts.