This Week's Herman Trend Alert

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  The Herman Trend Alert

May 9, 2018

Printing Human Organs

Recently, we have taken a step closer to commercializing the 3D printing of human replacement organs. The biotech company Organovo, based in San Diego, now believes that its bioprinted tissue can be used to test drug safety. The United States Food and Drug Administration (FDA) thinks so, too.

Turning donor cells into pieces of organs
This new process turns cells from donor organs into a printable bio-ink. Organovo is growing small organoids and using them to treat chronic conditions.

How to print 3D tissue
First, researchers must take and culture human liver cells in the right medium, so that they multiply. Second, they load the cultured cells into a specialized bioprinter. The bioprinter layers the cells onto a supportive water-based gel lattice. Finally, the researchers must wait for the cells to grow into developed tissue ready for transplanting.

Approval to treat disease with organoids
It could also be used more directly to treat patients. In late 2017, the FDA granted Organovo an orphan drug designation to use its 3D printed liver tissue. Orphan drug designation is a special status given to drugs used to treat rare diseases and conditions. The specific disease approved for treatment was alpha-1 antitrypsin deficiency, a rare inherited condition that includes chronic cough, emphysema and even COPD (Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease).

Creating a bridge to transplant
One of the scientists funded by the MRC Centre for Regenerative Medicine at the University of Edinburgh is Professor David Hay. His team has not only been successful in developing liver cells, but they have found a way to keep the cells alive for a year. His immediate objective is to create an organoid as a "bridge to transplant". Long-term, Dr. Hay hopes to offer a liver implant that will provide longer liver support.

Avoiding rejection
Using stem-cell-derived tissue helps the body to accept the new organoid, because it is not recognized as "foreign" by the body. This method also means that patients implanted with this tissue will not need the standard immunosuppression treatments usually necessary for patients who receive organ transplants.

What is coming next?
Successful bioprinting of liver organoids bodes well for 3D printing of other organs, including hearts and kidneys. Regenerative medicine holds the promise of alleviating the shortage of organs for transplant.

Special thanks to Hasan Chowdhury writing in The Financial Times. To read the whole article, visit

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