If the scientists at Organovo institute have their way, very soon, human tissues will be synthesized from cells in less than a week!
This will be made possible by the NovoGen Bioprinter, a 3D tissue printing machine invented by Organovo.
Organovo – A Marriage of Biology and Engineering
Organovo is a San Diego based company (with offices in Melbourne, Australia), specializing in 3D bioprinting technology. This, in a nutshell, means that Organovo has developed, and is further expanding, a technology which combines the principles of 3D printing and tissue engineering to create functional human tissues from aggregates of cells. Their 3D bioprinting technology is proprietary and is termed the NovoGen Bioprinter.
Previously available technologies for tissue engineering are neither as accurate nor as predictable in their formation of tissues. Organovo’s technology allows cells to form tissues in accurate and often predictable ways, forming tissues of the desired structure and function.
Organovo Joins the NYSE – Red Hot on the Market
On 12th July, 2013, Organovo shifted its shares from OTCBB (Over The Counter Bulletin Board) to a larger platform, the NYSE (New York Stock Exchange), under the trade name ONVO. This is a significant milestone in the Financial History of Organovo, as it’s no longer a small research company; now, it’s a large corporation with its own shares in the NYSE. Following this uplisting, Organovo’s shares doubled their value, from $3.9 to $8.5, a gain of over 100%! Such a gain is seldom seen in the stock exchange and is a testimony to the potential that Organovo has.
To celebrate this milestone, the President and CEO of Organovo, Keith Murphy visited the NYSE and rang the opening bell on 16th July, 2013. As it seems, the opening bell at the NYSE, on the morning of 16th July, heralded a new age of biotechnology and tissue engineering.
Tissue Bioprinting – The Work of God?
“So, Organovo is doing God’s work now?” Laymen would say. “Creating life?” No, I’m afraid true creation, while on the horizon, has to wait for now. What Organovo is actually doing is taking cells from live humans, aggregating them and ordering them into tissues in such a way that they remain alive and capable of performing their function.
The technology behind the NovoGen Bioprinter was invented, in 2005, by Gabor Forbacs and his associates. The idea was to use a computer to accurately predict the structure of a tissue formed from aggregates of cells and then using a device (the bioprinter) to form that exact structure. Their Patent summarizes their invention in the following words:
“In one embodiment, our method comprises (1) depositing a layer of a matrix on a substrate; (2) embedding a plurality of cell aggregates, each comprising a plurality of cells, in the layer of the matrix, the aggregates being arranged in a predetermined pattern; (3) allowing at least one aggregate of said plurality of cell aggregates to fuse with at least one other aggregate of the plurality of cell aggregates to form the desired structure; and (4) separating the structure from the matrix” ~ Gabor Forbacs et al.
In simple words, in this method, first an appropriate matrix is selected based on the computer-predicted behavior of cells in that matrix. Then, appropriate cells of humans are taken out (depending on the tissue being created e.g. for creating muscle tissue muscle cells will be taken out), aggregated and made into uniform particles. These particles are, then, used as “bio-ink” for the bioprinter to use in “printing” a desired arrangement on the selected matrix. Over a period of time, cells grow, interact and fuse to form definite patterns in the matrix.
This process is akin to what happens in normal human embryos during development. Soon, the cells arrange to form a tissue. When this happens, the mature tissue is taken out of the matrix. Voila! A fully formed tissue that most closely resembles natural human tissue is formed using only some cells.
Using this method, Organovo has successfully created pieces of Vascular, Muscular, Bone and Nerve Tissue. These pieces are, at the moment, only a few millimetres in size. Organovo intends to create entire organs in the future, in the same manner.
What Will Organovo’s 3D Bioprinting Change?
The most obvious implications of tissue bioprinting are in the field of medicine. While listing its objectives, Organovo mentions three things in particular:
“…predictive in-vitro tissues for disease modelling and toxicology… Testing drugs on functional human tissues before administering them to a living person… Creating three-dimensional functional tissues that can be implanted into humans…”
Let us consider these implications one by one:
- Predicting Models of Human Disease: The main goal in the field of pathology is to know exactly how diseases occur in human beings. This is confounded by the fact that while pieces of tissues can be taken out from diseased humans, experiments can’t be done on healthy human tissues in an attempt to replicate the disease process. Using bioprinted tissues from Organovo, bio-pharmaceutical companies and medical research centers will have the opportunity to experiment on healthy tissues, as much as they want, until they find the exact cause of disease. This information will pave way towards an effective cure for the disease.
- Testing Drugs for Side Effects: Side effects that occur with the use of drugs pose a major problem in medicine. In some cases, pharmaceutical companies work for years and years to develop a drug, the drug even passes all the preliminary tests on animals, but as soon as the drug is administered in humans, side effects are seen due to which the drug is never used. Using bioprinted tissues will enable companies to extensively test drugs on human tissues so that any side effects can be determined beforehand. In this way, the company will be saved from huge losses that accompany drug failure. In addition, this will help in determining in detail, the mechanisms by which drugs act making way for the discovery of new drugs.
- Organ and Tissue Transplantation: The most ambitious goals that Organovo is aiming for, are tissue and organ transplantation. Tissue transplantation is quite common. During many surgeries, blood vessels taken from the person are transplanted at another place. This has several drawbacks including excessive bleeding and infection. Using Organovo’s bioprinted blood vessels, there will be no need for damaging any of the other blood vessels of the person. Similarly, transplantation of nerves is a major problem in neurosurgery. Taking out nerves from some other place on the patient’s body leaves that donor place senseless. With Organovo’s nerves, there will be no need to damage any other part. Furthermore, Organovo’s Bioprinted Nerves will have more potential for regeneration. Organ transplantation methods used today, pose a risk for both donors and recipients. Moreover, the implanted organ can rejected by the recipient’s body, even several days or weeks after successful transplantation. Also, donors are very hard to find and the whole process of matching etc. takes a lot of time. All these problems can be overcome by the synthesis of whole organs using Organovo’s NovoGen Bioprinter.
Conclusion – A World with Plenty of Organs
In short, the era of Tissue Bioprinting that has begun with the financial establishment of Organovo in the NYSE, will bring revolutionary changes in the fields of medicine and surgery. Imagine an old man on a ventilator, who has been waiting for a replacement heart for two weeks; an old woman on the verge of death, who has been waiting for a liver for about 3 weeks and a middle aged man who needs a kidney within two or three hours to stay alive.
Unfortunately, in our age, all these people will likely expire. In an age imagined by the Organovo Institute, all of them will get well-matched organs within a few hours; they will all recover completely and live a healthy and happy life.
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