Methuselah Foundation – A thin layer of human skeletal muscle is being printed by Chirag Khatiwala in a small, sterile room of San Diego-based startup Organovo. Each muscle cell from the company’s signature 3-D printer is uniformly deposited in closely spaced lines on a petri dish. This allows the cells to grow and interconnect until they form working muscle tissue nearly indistinguishable from a human muscle biopsy.
Unlike other experimental approaches that utilize ink-jet printers to deposit cells, Organovo’s technology enables cells to interact with each other the way they do in the body. How? They are packed tightly together, sandwiched, if you will, and incubated. This prompts them to cleave to each other and interchange chemical signals. When printed, the cells are grouped together in a paste that helps them grow, migrate, and align themselves properly. In the case of muscle cells, the way they orient themselves in the same direction allow for contractions of the tissue.
Skeletal muscle tissue is but one of several classes of tissue, including cardiac, lung, and blood vessels that can be built from a 3-D printer.
Credit: Frank Rogozienski/Wonderful Machine
Technology Review – So far, Organovo has made only small pieces of tissue, but its ultimate goal is to use its 3-D printer to make complete organs for transplants. Because the organs would be printed from a patient’s own cells, there would be less danger of rejection.
Organovo plans to fund its organ-printing research with revenue from printing tissues to aid in drug development. The company is undertaking experiments to prove that its technology can help researchers detect drug toxicity earlier than is possible with other tests, and it is setting up partnerships with major companies, starting with the drug giant Pfizer.
Yet another critical need could be addressed by this advanced technology: Because Organovo’s product is so similar to native human tissue, it could help researchers identify drugs that will fail long before they reach clinical trials, potentially saving drug companies billions of dollars. Many potential drugs that only seem promising when tested in cell cultures or animals fail because both specimens are very different from human tissue.