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March 04, 2011

3D organ printing - interview with Gabor Forgacs of Organovo

Organovo is trying to come up with two products. One of them is focused on blood vessels, which I call vascular grafts and the other focus is on nerve grafts. You need vascular grafts, or substitute blood vessels, when you have a clogged artery or symbiosis where you need to replace blood vessels. We are building blood vessels using the 3D printing technology but we’re not yet at the point where our vessels can be safely introduced into a living organism. We’re very close but we’re not yet there.


The nerve graft is another important graft. Imagine that someone’s nerve is ruptured, typically in a traffic accident or on a battlefield, which is a serious injury. Unfortunately a nerve will not regenerate spontaneously if the gap between the two ruptured ends is bigger than 3 centimeters in a human being so we’re building grafts that can breach this gap that’s made of the patient’s own cells. The buzzword here is autologous tissue engineering. Autologous means we’re using the patient’s own cells. That’s where this science is leading to avoid immunological reactions

Organs for faster drug testing

We have worked with pharmaceutical companies, most of which spend $1 billion to develop and market a drug, if it is successful. When they go from animal trials to human clinical trials there is a good chance that they will lose the drug. In fact, 65% of the drugs that are developed in the labs that go through successful animal trials are thrown away once human clinical trials commence because what is good for the animal is not good for the human.

We tell them, we’re going to print you a truly 3D little organoid – let’s say a liver from human cells. We take human liver cells and we build a 3D little teeny tiny liver that still can be maintained in culture and we tell them, OK, why don’t you try the drug on the 3D human structure and if the drug does not work and the little liver dies, well then don’t go any further because chances are that when you put it into a human, it’s not going to work. We are already working with some pharmaceutical companies and they realize the value of this.

Making tissue that replicates function

So it’s about replicating the functionality of the kidney from one’s own cells as opposed to creating an identical copy of the actual organ?
If I can come up with a structure from your own cells – so I put it in your body and there is no immunological reaction and that structure performs the same function as far as ridding the body of toxins – then I accomplished my goal.

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