Say goodbye to donor lists and organ shortages. A biotech firm has created a printer that prints veins using a patients’ own cells. The device could potentially create whole organs in the future.
“Right now we’re really good at printing blood vessels,” says Ben Shepherd, senior research scientist at regenerative-medicine company Organovo. “We printed 10 this week. We’re still learning how to best condition them to be good, strong blood vessels.”
Most organs in the body are filled with veins, so the ability to print vascular tissue is a critical building block for complete organs. The printed veins are about to start testing in animal trials, and eventually go through human clinical trials. If all goes well, in a few years you may be able to replace a vein that has deteriorated (due to frequent injections of chemo treatment, for example) with custom-printed tissue grown from your own cells.
The barriers to full-organ printing are not just technological. The first organ-printing machine will cost hundreds of millions of dollars to develop, test, produce and market. Not to mention the difficulty any company will have getting FDA approval.
“If Organovo will be able to raise enough money this company has [the] potential to succeed as [the] first bioprinting company but only time will show,” says Dr. Vladimir Mironov, director of advanced tissue biofabrication at the Medical University of South Carolina.