Organovo & Methuselah Foundation- Building the Future of Regenerative Medicine

“Longer term,” says Chief Executive Keith Murphy, “we think this technology can be critical in solving the organ shortage.” Organovo, a San Diego-based biotechnology company commissioned a three-dimensional “printer” that would one day allow scientists to construct human organs cell by cell. The machine arrived Fall of 2009 and the prospects for the system seem bright. For any of us who thought the scenes from The Fifth Element - where a team of scientists were able to construct in a matter of hours blood cells, tissue, and organs - this is something like a dream come true. And for countless people in need of organs and their loved ones, this, we suspect, will certainly be the case.

Recently, the Organovo NovaGen 3D bioprinter created the first “printed” human vein. Gaining experience by building blood vessel networks will help in building other tissue types and in the foreseeable future, the 3D bioprinter will be able to produce entire organs—all without the use of donor body parts or surgery performed for the use of your own. Voilà: a brand new organ just for you. How does it work, exactly?

“Bio-ink”, a substance that acts as a sort of scaffolding for the cells to retain their shape, is loaded into the printer which sits inside a standard bio-safety cabinet for sterile use. Included is an intuitive software interface allowing engineers to construct a model of the tissue specimen before the printer begins the physical construction of the organs one cell at a time, using automated, laser-calibrated print heads—one for placing human cells and the other for placing the “bio-ink” hydrogel matrix that maintains the shape of the cells’ structure.

An enormous challenge was the method in which the capillary tip, attached to the print head, would be repositioned repeatedly to within microns to ensure that the cells would be placed in precisely the right position. Invetech certainly stepped up to the plate with a computer-controlled laser-based calibration system that would achieve the required exact repeatability.

“Building human organs cell-by-cell was considered science fiction not that long ago. Through this clever combination of technology and science we have helped Organovo develop an instrument that will improve people’s lives, making the regenerative medicine that Organovo provides accessible to people around the world,” says President of Invetech, Dr. Fred Davis. And the Methuselah Foundation, always hungrily seeking to support and reward science that extends healthy lifespan, likes to think so, too.

Sign On San Diego. “Organovo updeat on tissue printer.” Business Page.…, 7 Jan. 2010. Web. 1 April. 2010.

The Fifth Element. Dir. Luc Besson. Perfs. Bruce Willis, Gary Oldman, Milla Jovovich. DVD. Prod. Patrice Ledoux, 1997.

Rob Aid. “Organovo 3D bio-printer can make human tissue and organs.” Tech Page.…, 24 March. 2010. Web. 1 April. 2010