San Diego-based bioprinting company Organovo has successfully created functional 3D-printed livers—albeit very, very tiny ones. At half a millimeter deep by four millimeters wide, the livers will likely be used for medical tests, but Organovo hopes that they will soon produce full-sized livers that could do away with agonizing waits on long transplant lists.
The tiny organs are constructed using Organovo’s NovoGen Bioprinting platform, and as New Scientist explains, this 3D printer builds up over 20 layers of hepatocytes and stellate cells—two major types of liver cells. It then adds cells from the lining of blood vessels to “form a delicate mesh of channels that supply the liver cells with nutrients and oxygen, allowing the tissue to live for five days or longer.”
These 3D replica livers can perform most of the functions of a liver; they produce proteins, generate cholesterol and can even process alcohol. “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,” explained Keith Murphy, Chairman and Chief Executive Officer at Organovo.The organs can be infected with diseases—and treated with medication—to run tests with more accurate results than one would receive from 2D cultures. Additionally, the 3D-printed organs last longer than conventional 2D cultures.
Taken alone, this is pretty extraordinary, but Organovo believes that in the future they will be able to create larger “livers” that can be used for transplant in humans—which means developing a technique to 3D print human-sized networks of blood vessels that will be capable of nourishing the entire organ.
Images © Organovo