Bioprinting Livers: Starting Small

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At this point in time, many leading college research departments have begun working on various aspects of 3D bioprinting. Whether it’s developing anything from 3D blood vessels to growing organs for performing drug liver-3toxicity testing, research is in high gear. A perfect example of this ground breaking work is being done at MIT. Dr. Sangeeta Bhatin, Director, MIT’s Laboratory for Multiscale Regenerative Technologies and her team are among groups who are transforming the medical profession as we know it.

Currently, she and her team are bioprinting miniature livers. The tiny livers “contain about a million cells,” according to Bhatin. She indicates that the tiny organs or ‘micro-livers’ as she refers to them, “so far look a lot like a soft contact lens,” as you will notice in the image below. Livers that are found in humans have “about a hundred billion cells, so their is certainly a lot of work to be done here. Having said this, these livers can already be implanted into mice and used to perform drug toxicity tests for humans.

3D printed liver tissue

3D printed liver tissue

While most organs in the human body need stem cells to duplicate, a distinctive feature of the liver is that there are no stem cells within it, meaning that a normal liver can regenerate by itself. Dr. Bhatin points out, “If we cut 50 percent of the liver out, it will be back in two weeks.” This is one of the reasons why the liver provides so many unique properties with regards to testing, This feature makes livers the ideal source for testing to determine if new drugs would be safe to use in humans, while also making it one of the easier organs to bioprint.

Dr. Sangeeta Bhatin, and two of her students at MIT

Dr. Sangeeta Bhatin, and two of her students at MIT

But use of these ‘micro-livers’ is just the beginning. Bhatin says that “her goal is to scale up the size of the micro-liver so it can be used for human-to-human liver transplants.” She notes that the biggest challenge to building implantable organs is getting the scale right. “Scaling up the tiny livers to meet the requirements for human transplant is still a ways off,” comments Dr. Bhatin.

While it is anyone’s guess as to when human-to-human transplants will be available, early projections indicate approximately 10 years. Having said this, the intensity of research occurring throughout the medical profession, which includes the multi-million dollar, San Diego based company, Organovo, would suggest a much quicker time frame. In the meantime there are still a number of beneficial applications for these miniature livers created by Bhatin and her team.

When do you think surgeons will begin transplanting 3D bioprinted livers into patients? Let us know your opinion in the 3D printed liver thread on 3DPB.com.

[Source: WUWM.com]

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