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Organovo’s primary focus is engineering blood vessel grafts that can be used for arterial bypass procedures in patients with peripheral artery disease. One advantage of the technology is that it avoids host rejection complications by using the patient’s own blood cells to create new blood vessels. But the work still remains at an early stage, and it will take Organovo years to gain the necessary regulatory approval. “Basically, we have to complete the pre-clinical studies before we can move onto clinical trials,” Murphy says.
As a result, Murphy says a more immediate prospect for a commercially viable product could be the bio-printer itself. Organovo developed the device through a partnership with Invetech, a Melbourne, Australia-based engineering design company that has extensive experience developing automated equipment for the biomedical, industrial, and consumer markets. Invetech, which also has an office in San Diego, delivered an early production model of the machine to Organovo a couple months ago. The bio-printer was designed to fit inside a standard biosafety cabinet for sterile use, and uses two print heads—one for precisely depositing human tissue cells, the other for depositing a jello-like hydrogel that provides both structural support and nutrients for the human tissue cells.
Organovo plans to sell the units, at an estimated price of $200,000 apiece, to research labs around the world that are investigating the use of bio-printers for human tissue repair and organ replacement. Although the machine operates much like an inkjet printer that uses tissue cells instead of ink, Murphy says it is conceptually more like a 3D rapid prototyping machine.
By using the 3D bio-printer, Murphy says scientists and engineers can place cells of almost any type into a desired pattern in three dimensions. Researchers can place liver cells on a preformed scaffold, support kidney cells with a co-printed scaffold, or form adjacent layers of epithelial and stromal soft tissue that grow into a mature tooth. To run it, an operator types instructions into a computerized controller, which guides the automated laser-calibrated print heads. Creating a 5-cm blood vessel (almost 2 inches long) takes about one hour, Murphy says.
“Our technology is open to any cell type,” Murphy says. “So if someone developed technology to use induced pluripotent stem cells to create organs, then we’ll be able to work with that. As advances are made in stem cell science, we can take advantage of them.”
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