According to reports from MIT’s Technology Review, San Diego-based technology startup Organovo has found a new and intriguing application for 3D printing: medical research.
The human difference
Here’s the background. It seems, there are several striking dissimilarities between the human metabolism and those of animals. Because of this, quite a few drugs that seemed promising when tested on animal tissues turn out to be disappointing when they are tested on human tissues, which are far more expensive.
What Organovo hopes to achieve is to use 3D printing technology to create tissues that are virtually identical to human skin and muscle, but considerably less expensive. The result should be a greatly simplified and cheaper development and testing process for medical and pharmaceutical testing.
More conventional applications for 3D printing involve the application of thin layers of plastic, resin-based adhesives or some other exotic material, one layer at a time, until a finished object takes shape. What Organovo technicians have done is insert cartridges of specifically-prepared cells into the process. These cells, when arranged in closely-spaced lines in a petri dish, grow and ultimately mature into substances that are strikingly similar to actual human tissue samples.
Organovo scientists have generated a number of different human tissue samples this way, including cardiac muscle, lungs and blood vessels. Company executives expect that they will be able to help research and development companies save billions of dollars each year.
The view ahead
The people at Organovo have plans for innovations well beyond the testing of new drugs. They hope, one day, to create tissue samples that are much larger in scope, up to and including complete human organs.
Among many other implications, company scientists conjecture that skin grafts and organs for transplant might one day be grown from a patient’s own cells. This could greatly reduce the dangers associated with assimilation and rejection of the new tissues.