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Dr. Mike

3D printed livers now a reality?

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Blogger SSchoppert recently posted a blog article about 3D printed livers manufactured by Organovo. First of all, I would like to disclose that last year I purchased some Organovo stock (ONVO) since I thought the idea of 3D printed organs was pretty cool and *might* work out sometime in the far distant future. As someone who routinely treats patients with liver cancer and liver failure I recognize the need for livers beyond those available by donation. I was shocked to see a product on the market so soon.

 

These livers are not full-size organs ready for transplant, but even creation of a small liver with microscopic support matrix is a big step forward and one closer to the the dream of fully transplantable organs. Read my blog article about the difficulties in creating a real liver with 3D printing.

 

What are you thoughts on this?

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Fascinating and an important advancement for drug R&D, but the implications for future clinical applications like autografting are unclear.  From Organovo's press release, the major step forward here is the ability to better model liver pharmacokinetics and possibly some pharmacodynamics for some drugs, but how this is achieved is not specified beyond "3D printing" and the product tissue does not necessarily resemble real liver tissue histologically.  A more impressive next step would be to print a functional lobule-equivalent mimicking a wider array of hepatic functions and that is scalable to multiple units operating in parallel.  As you pointed out, the complex hepatic microstructure will be tricky.

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Thanks for the post kakaydin!

 

A scalable functional hepatic lobule or segment would indeed be interesting, and would be a major step in the direction of transplantable organs. With livers, an entire organ doesn't need to be transplanted to fix the problem of an ailing native liver. Usually 2 or 3 well-functioning segments can be enough to provide adequate liver function. I don't think it even needs to be shaped like a real liver. As long as it can be hooked up to the vascular structures it might work. 

 

I saw a talk last week at the RSNA meeting by Roger Markwald from the University of South Carolina. He is using bioprinting with 300 micron gelatin spheres that are impregnated with stem cells to create vascular channels for eventual organ synthesis. Much work needs to be done, but I expect to see a lot of interesting developments in the near future.

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