2014 could be a landmark year for medical technology, as researchers just announced that they are close to creating the world’s first 3D printed organ. San Diego-based biotech firm Organovo plans to use its bioprinting technology to successfully 3D print a liver by the end of 2014. In an interview with ComputerWorld, the bioprinting company said it has overcome a big obstacle to creating the vascular system needed to provide man-made organs with life-sustaining oxygen and nutrients.
Just like your everyday MakerBot, Organovo’s organic 3D printer lays down layers of material to form a solid entity. The major issue with fabricating human tissue thus far has been cells would literally die before the tissue made it off the printer table.
Organovo’s researchers were able to overcome this obstacle by bringing together fibroblasts and endothelial cells, which create a tiny vascular network of blood vessels. This microscopic addition allowed Organovo to build up an organ thicker than 500 microns (0.019 inches). It might seem insignificantly small, but the man-made tissue was fully functional for at least 40 days while it sat in a petri dish.
Although the liver won’t be suitable for transplants in human beings, it could be extremely effective for scientific research and drug testing. The drug testing field still uses controversial animal testing, and fabricating 3D printed organs could be a much more humane alternative. Organovo also hopes its 3D printing technology will help reduce the exorbitant costs of drug testing.
Images © Organnovo