When it comes to major medical breakthroughs, it’s easy to assume that the newest treatments will come from the biggest names in the medical industry. After all, it’s the multi-million-dollar companies like Bayer and Pfizer that have the resources to develop the medicines and technologies needed to fight the most difficult diseases. But sometimes the most revolutionary developments come from small startup companies. You’ve probably never heard of Pandorum Technologies, but expect that to change. The Bangalore-based biotechnology startup just made history by developing India’s first 3D printed artificial human liver tissue, which has major implications for both the research and treatment of liver disease.
“In the near future, such bio-printed organs will address the acute shortage of human organs available for surgical transplantation,” said Pandorum co-founder Dr. Tuhin Bhowmick.
Pandorum was founded in 2011 by a group of higher education students at the Indian Institute of Science for the purpose of researching and developing artificial human organs. Developing the liver tissue wasn’t easy. The raw materials needed to produce a 5mm layer of bioprinted tissue included a million liver cells, sourced from a bio bank, which were then combined into a hydrogel “ink” made up of glucose, proteins and living cells from an insect. The ink served as the base to 3D print a “mini liver,” which has the potential for numerous applications that will aid in the research and treatment of liver disease.
“This technology will help us create a liver dialysis machine with multiple liver tissues put in columns, which will perform liver-like functions and will help people with liver diseases,” said Dr. Sonal Asthana, senior consultant at Aster CMI Hospital. “Within five years, we can see it materialising.”
The development of the artificial tissue should also allow for more reliable and affordable testing of drug treatment for liver disease, without requiring the use of human or animal test subjects. The bioprinted tissue mimics the function of a real liver, without some of the complications that can hinder drug testing with an actual liver.
“Liver toxicity and drug metabolism are the key hurdles, and contributors to failed human trials,” said Arun Chandru, co-founder and managing director of Pandorum. “Our 3D bio-printed mini-livers that mimic the human liver will serve as test platforms for discovery and development of drugs with better efficacy, less side-effects and at lower costs.”
According to Chandru, the printed tissue can grow and survive for up to eight weeks in the lab, and this is just the beginning. Ultimately, Pandorum hopes to use the technology to print entire organs that can be transplanted into humans. Liver tissue was the first step, but future goals include printing personalized lungs, pancreas and kidneys for human transplant. Currently, the team can print about 10 million cells, but Chandru expects that they will be able to print one billion by 2020 and 100 billion by 2030, at which point printing entire organs will be feasible.
“They perform functions like any other liver tissue and their response drugs and toxins are more realistic than current industry standards of 2D cell culture and animal models which are not human alike. Generally testing on animals may not get accurate results all the time. The tissue that we have developed has 10 million cells and can be primarily be used in medical research which is mainly to do with disease modelling and studying the radiation effects,” says Chandru.
Pandorum is currently funded by grants from the Biotechnology Industry Research Assistance Council, and is incubated at the Centre for Cellular and Molecular Platforms, a nonprofit organization that provides support for bioscience research and entrepreneurship.To further their research, Pandorum is now reaching out to contract organizations that work on early-stage drug research.
“This is a significant milestone,” said Dr. Bhowmick. “Our creation is a major step towards on-demand manufacturing of human organs for transplant and has the potential to revolutionise medicinal research.”
While Organovo’s exVive bioprinted liver tissue became commercially available last year, the developments from Pandorum represent the first such step in India. As bioprinting sweeps across the world, implications will be huge for research and treatment. Discuss this breakthrough in the 3D Printed Liver forum thread on 3DPB.com.