Research team makes progress toward 'printing' organs

November 6, 2007

Each year, pharmaceutical companies invest millions of dollars to test drugs, many of which will never reach the market because of side effects found only during human clinical trials. At the same time, the number of patients waiting for organ transplants continues to increase. In the past 10 years, this number has nearly doubled. Now, a new study led by a University of Missouri-Columbia physics researcher might present new solutions to both problems with the help of a very special printer.

For the past four years, Gabor Forgacs, the George H. Vineyard Professor of Physics in the MU College of Arts and Science, has been working to refine the process of “printing” tissue structures of complex shape with the aim of eventually building human organs. In the latest study, a research team led by Forgacs determined that the process of building such structures by printing does not harm the properties of the composing cells and the process mimics the naturally occurring biological assembly of living tissues.

In the study, the team used bio-ink particles, or spheres containing 10,000 to 40,000 cells, and assembled, or “printed,” them on to sheets of organic, cell friendly “bio-paper.” Once printed, the spheres began to fuse in the bio-paper into one structure, much the same way that drops of water will fuse to form a larger drop of water.

“If you wait for a long time, eventually all the small spheres will fuse into one large sphere,” Forgacs said. “To prevent that from happening, we can remove the bio-paper and stop the fusion process once the desired shape has formed. Through this bio-printing process, we were able to build, for the first time, functional tissue structures.”

In the past, there have been two concerns with printing extended tissue structures using large amounts of cells. First, scientists needed to determine how to get specific cells to the correct locations within the structures. Second, even though the right cells might be in the right place within the structure, there was a problem of function. How do you make an organ start working?

As the Mizzou research team found in the study, there appears to be no need to worry about either of these concerns. As the tissue structure begins to form, the cells go through a natural process called “sorting,” which is nature’s way of determining where specific cells need to be. For example, an artery has three specific types of cells – endothelial cells, smooth muscle cells and fibroblast cells, each type needing to be in a specific location in the artery. As thousands and thousands of cells are added to the bio-paper under controlled conditions, the cells migrate automatically to their specific locations to make the structure form correctly.

The team also found that nature was the answer to the second question. In the study, scientists took cells from a chicken heart and used them to form bio-ink particles, which were then printed on to thick sheets. Heart cells must be synchronized for the heart to beat properly. When the bio-ink particles were first printed, the cells did not beat in unison, but as the cellular spheroids fused, the structure eventually started beating just as a heart does.

“This study shows that we can use multiple cell types and that we do not have to control what happens when the cells fuse together,” Forgacs said. “Nature is smart enough to do the job.”

The study is being published in an upcoming edition of Tissue Engineering and was funded by a $5 million grant from the National Science Foundation. Forgacs also has become involved with a company, Organovo, Inc., which is interested in licensing the technology. He also plans to work with drug companies to provide them with tissues they can use to test drugs, prior to human clinical trials.

Currently, drugs are tested first on animals and then go through a human clinical stage. Because of the major differences in biological function, humans often have different reactions than animals. Forgacs believes that providing human tissue structures that resemble organs to the drug companies will make drug testing cheaper and much more efficient.

Source: University of Missouri-Columbia

Explore further: Pressure testing tiny cell samples

Related Stories

Pressure testing tiny cell samples

May 25, 2010

A collaboration of French and Canadian researchers have found that sucking a portion of a spherical globule of cells into a tiny pipette provides information about the adhesion between cells and the elastic properties of ...

Researcher targets mechanism that allows cancer to spread

August 2, 2016

The majority of women who die from breast cancer don't die from the primary malignancy. They die when the aggressive cancer metastasizes, spreading rapidly throughout the body and forming new tumors in the bone, lungs and ...

The ultimate iron chef: When 3-D printers invade the kitchen

October 21, 2013

Printing food seems more like an idea based in Star Trek rather than in the average home. But recent advances in 3D printing (known formally as additive manufacturing) are driving the concept closer to reality. With everything ...

Printers to produce life-saving organs

December 12, 2005

A team of American scientists is studying the potential of printers being developed to produce life-saving organs, reports Wired.com. They believe that any organ, a skin graft, a new trachea or a heart patch for example, ...

Recommended for you

Predicting the future with the wisdom of crowds

June 23, 2017

Forecasters often overestimate how good they are at predicting geopolitical events—everything from who will become the next pope to who will win the next national election in Taiwan.

3 comments

Adjust slider to filter visible comments by rank

Display comments: newest first

Nikola
2.5 / 5 (2) Nov 06, 2007
Given the progress of technology and knowledge, it is only a matter of time untill we achieve the power of "god". Yeah science!!!
julesruis
5 / 5 (1) Nov 07, 2007
For more information about using Fractal Geometry for printing organs see:
www.fractal.org/f...lary.htm
JohnSawyer
not rated yet Nov 08, 2007
Nikola says:

"Given the progress of technology and knowledge, it is only a matter of time untill we achieve the power of "god"."

Are you sure about that? Though I notice the quotation marks around the word "god".

Please sign in to add a comment. Registration is free, and takes less than a minute. Read more

Click here to reset your password.
Sign in to get notified via email when new comments are made.