MIT researchers building mini human livers with 3D printing
June 22, 2014
For Sangeeta Bhatia, now is an exciting time to be a biomedical engineer. Bhatia is recognized as a pioneer in bioMEMS and directs the Laboratory for Multiscale Regenerative Technologies at MIT. Although Bhatia’s work explores a wide range of topics, she is most well-known for her development of micro livers 3D printed from human cells.
Scientists have long been experimenting with the 3D printing of cells, but Bhatia’s team has moved a step closer to creating a synthetic liver. The tiny human livers created at Bhatia’s lab contain approximately one million cells and resemble contact lenses in appearance.
Jeremy Hobson of Boston’s WBUR NPR radio news station interviewed Bhatia last week. Bhatia told Hobson that her goal is to scale up the size of the micro-liver so one day it can be used as an alternative to human-to-human liver transplants.
“The livers we’ve built so far look a lot like a soft contact lens. We call them our contact lens livers, and they contain about a million liver cells. Your liver actually has about a hundred billion liver cells, so they need to be about a thousand times bigger.” said Bhatia.
Bhatia’s team has been experimenting with building layers with light-sensitive materials. The light shine a pattern in every layer and end up with a 3D part. The specific technique depends on the tissue, and liver is very special because of its ability to regenerate without a stem cell.
“It’s one of the only organs in the human body that can do this.” Bhatia explained. “Since the 8th century B.C., we knew the liver could regenerate and it doesn’t need a stem cell, and in fact, if we cut 50 percent of the liver out, it’ll be back in two weeks.”
The biggest challenge is to scale up, to print a liver that contains a billion or 10 billion liver cells. The 3D printed tiny human liver that behaves like human liver can be implanted in mice. And the test results showed that the 3D printed tissue produced some of the same interactions and injuries that are usually only seen in humans. Bhatia hopes that they would take the technology to human someday.
But another important area is actually building little tiny organs that you could do drug screening on, Bhatia said. San Diego medical research company Organovo is also working on creating slices of functioning, long-lasting human liver for drug testing, and they now expects to unveil the world’s first printed organ – a human liver – by the end of 2014.
“This is a way that the fabrication technologies are really helpful, so we’ve made little micro livers. They’re about the size of the pin of a needle, and they allow us to do drug testing to test if drugs would be safe when they got into humans.”
Posted in 3D Printing Applications
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