Using 3D printers are gaining widespread visibility among hobbyists and manufacturers. But printing plastic doodads or even aluminum auto parts is a far cry from the living tissue now being developed — and sold — in the life sciences. Known as bioprinting, researchers have used 3D printers to create artificial cartilage from cow and human tissue. That’s considered somewhat low-hanging fruit among those working to print more complex tissue caring blood vessels, which researchers have created by printing materials into the tissue that later dissolve, creating channels.
Organovo (San Diego; www.organovo.com), is among the more ambitious firms, having bioprinted tissue with blood vessels, as well as kidney, muscle and breast cancer tissues in the lab (the latter of which the company says are less susceptible to tamoxifen-induced toxicity, and could aid in the development of more effective cancer drugs). Bioprinted liver tissue holds the most immediate promise; Organovo announced in late January that it had delivered its bioprinted liver tissue to an outside laboratory for experimentation. The biopprinted liver strips, roughly 20 cells thick, could provide a reliable (and profitable) supply for use in drug toxicity testing.
"By the end of January, we expect to have bioprinted nearly four hundred 3D Liver tissues during the month,” said Dr. Sharon Presnell, Organovo's chief technology officer and executive vice president of R&D. Full-organ printing, if it comes at all, will require years of R&D, regulatory approvals and clinical trials. Today, Organovo’s business plan calls for product deliveries and outsource contractor of preclinical research services to pharmaceutical companies and biopharma labs — a market the company says is worth $7-billion, and can could command prices in the high tens of thousands of dollars per compound per standard screening for liver alone.