We give bioprinting, and specifically the bioengineering company Organovo, a lot of attention around here because the technology is experiencing far-reaching breakthroughs that will improve the lives of millions. Bioprinting allows living cells to be manipulated in precise and thought-out ways, which is necessary because living tissue can be very complex. Organs are especially complex, being comprised of various types of cells that perform their own complex, yet interconnected tasks. The liver is like that, very complex and even more necessary. So when Organovo announced the successful printing of liver tissue, it was big news.
“We have achieved excellent function in a fully cellular 3D human liver tissue. With Organovo’s 3D bioprinted liver tissues, we have demonstrated the power of bioprinting to create functional human tissue that replicates human biology better than what has come before. Not only can these tissues be a first step towards larger 3D liver, laboratory tests with these samples have the potential to be game changing for medical research. We believe these models will prove superior in their ability to provide predictive data for drug discovery and development, better than animal models or current cell models,” said Keith Murphy, Chairman and Chief Executive Officer at Organovo.
The reason bioprinting is a part of 3D printing is because living tissue requires three dimensions to thrive. Dr. Sharon Presnell, Chief Technology Officer and Executive Vice President of Research and Development, explains what the NovoGen platform allowed them to achieve: “We’ve combined three key features that set our 3D tissues apart from 2D cell-culture models. First, the tissues are not a monolayer of cells; our tissues are approximately 20 cell layers thick. Second, the multi-cellular tissues closely reproduce the distinct cellular patterns found in native tissue. Finally, our tissues are highly cellular, comprised of cells and the proteins those cells produce, without dependence on biomaterials or scaffold for three-dimensionality. They actually look and feel like living tissues.”
That last bit about no dependence on biomaterials or scaffolds is of particular note because real organs are three dimensional without them, so if three dimensionality can be achieved with just the various cells that make up an organ, then that organ will be a much more accurate analog than one that requires synthetic support. Since liver cells are used in labs to test the toxicity and efficacy of drugs, these printed tissues will first serve that purpose. Soon though, a larger liver will be printed, and it won’t be long after that that printed organs will be tested in animals. It’s a short hop from there to humans.