Rethinking Healthcare

Organovo's 3-D printer builds human muscle tissue

Posting in Technology

To fund organ-printing research, the startup plans to help drug developers save billions by offering a product so similar to human tissue, it can be used to test drugs before clinical trials.

San Diego-based startup Organovo isn’t printing replacement organs yet, but they’re getting closer… they’ve begun building human skeletal muscle. Technology Review reports.

Many potential drugs seem promising when they’re tested in cell cultures and animal models, but then fail during clinical trials because well, those tests are different from human tissue.

Organovo's product is so similar to human tissue, it could help researchers identify drugs that will fail long before they reach clinical trials – saving drug developers billions of dollars.

To build a think layer of human skeletal muscle, they start with a cartridge of specially prepared muscle cells. This is loaded into a 3-D printer, which then deposits them in uniform, closely spaced lines in a petri dish. This arrangement allows the cells to grow and interact until they form working muscle tissue that’s nearly indistinguishable from something you’d find in a real person.

Rather than use ink-jet printers to deposit cells, this technology lets cells interact with each other – like the way they do in the body. They’re packed together tightly and incubated, prompting them to trade chemical signals.

When they're printed, the cells are kept bunched together in a paste that helps them grow, migrate, and align themselves properly. (Muscle cells orient themselves in the same direction to create tissue that contracts.)

Take a look at a photo gallery of the process.

So far, Organovo has built tissue of several types, including cardiac muscle, lung, and blood vessels. They’ve only made small pieces of tissue, but the goal is to use their 3-D printer to make organs for transplants.

The company plans to fund its organ-printing research with revenue from printing tissues to aid drug development. It’s set up partnerships with major companies, starting with Pfizer.

From Technology Review.

Image: Organovo’s NovoGen MMX Bioprinter

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Janet Fang

Contributing Editor

Janet Fang has written for Nature, Discover and the Point Reyes Light. She is currently a lab technician at Lamont-Doherty Earth Observatory. She holds degrees from the University of California, Berkeley and Columbia University. She is based in New York. Follow her on Twitter. Disclosure