Organovo CEO predicts timeframe for 3D printing a human liver

Bioprinting is one of our favorite subjects, and Organovo is the company that most symbolizes the progress in this field. In this video, Organovo’s CEO Keith Murphy is interviewed on CBC News’ Lang & O’Leary Exchange.

We introduced readers to Organovo last March, and have since written often about the company’s developments and about the company as a 3D printing investment. Organovo has pioneered a form of bioprinting that uses a specialized 3D printer to build human tissue by using cells as a sort of “human ink.” As of yet, they are not able to print an entire human organ, although that is one of their goals. Currently, they print assays of tissue that pharmaceutical companies use for the testing of their products.

Watch the video for a good explanation of how the process works.


One part of the exchange is particularly interesting, and I’ve transcribed it below. While researchers at Wake Forest Institute for Regenerative Medicine are currently printing human bladders and University of Iowa researchers say human organs will be here in 5-10 years, according to Murphy, it is still some time until we print an entire human liver.

O’Leary: Give us a timeframe., because let’s say you have liver cancer, which is obviously a terror to people, it’s almost a death sentence, could this be used to save somebody in that situation, how many years away are we? I realize it’s a crystal ball for you, but give us an idea, is it in a generation, is it two generations? If you got cancer would you save yourself with this one day? What will happen?

Murphy: It’s a great question, and the best way to think about it is not in terms of how many years, but how many people years. How many people are nations putting on this in terms of research, how much funding is going towards it? If we had a billion dollars moving into this field things would move a lot more quickly. If someone took the Apollo moon shot and said I’m going to dedicate the resources of entire nations we would get this done. But I think it’s decades away short of that.

I’m not worried about any lack of government spending on bioprinting — the less Solyndra’s and Fisker’s the better. Rather, I believe in the power of the private sector to push forward technologies like this. Investors have sent Organovo hundreds of millions of dollars (disclosure: myself included) already, and hundreds of billions more into other biotech companies. If it can be done (and it can), it will get done. And it won’t be decades — any CEO worth his salt who is looking for government grants would say the same thing…”if we only had more money…”

If I can make it a couple decades more without kicking the bucket, I should be able to replace or repair anything in my body. A future of repairable humans is close at hand.