Brazilian Researchers have 3D-printed functional “Mini-Livers”
With the bioprinting of tiny organoids, we have moved one step closer towards self-reliance of donor organs
Nothing makes me happier than when I share the news of some advancement in the field of Health using technological innovation. After all, tech is not only about having sleek & smart gadgets or supercomputers which can perform massive calculations in a fraction of a second. One such aspect of tech for good is the use of 3D printing to help people who need it the most.
Last month, I wrote about two startups that came together to bring shelters to the homeless in Mexico by utilizing this revolutionary technology. After more than two years of endeavors, they were able to build affordable 3D homes for people most in need.
The month before, the creation of living skin by researchers served as another landmark for 3D printing. Researchers at the Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute in New York came together to 3D print artificial skin, which comes with complete blood vessels, thus replicating something very similar to our own natural skin. The artificial skin has the capability of communicating with the host cells.
One of the biggest problems that health practitioners around the world face is a shortage of organ donors for patients who are facing life-threatening situations and need a replacement urgently. Unfortunately, for a lot of these waiting patients, the wait ends in tragedy.
Researchers now have taken the first small step in solving this problem. While a full-scale liver may be further away in the future, they have bio-printed functional “mini-livers” as reported by the Brazilian news service Agência FAPESP. The team of scientists reprogrammed human stem cells before 3D printing them in layers to replicate a tissue.
“At this stage, they aren't tissue yet because they’re dispersed, but as shown by our study, they already have the capacity to clear the blood of toxins and to produce and secrete albumin. We did it on a small scale, but with investment and interest, it can easily be scaled up.” ~Author Ernesto Goulart
The most innovative part of the technique used to print these mini livers lay in how the cells were grouped into clumps and then mixed with a hydrogel-like fluid ‘bioink’ and printed out into a three-dimensional lattice. By employing this cell-grouping technique on the actual stem cells from the patient, they avoided the loss of tissue functionality faced in previous human tissue bioprinting techniques.
The study distributes the process into three stages — Differentiation, Printing & Maturation outlining the completion time of 90 days from the time when the patients’ blood sample is taken. The team of researchers developed mini-livers from blood cells taken from three volunteers while joining bioengineering techniques, cell reprogramming & 3D bioprinting.
The trials showed successfully that mini livers replicated the functions of the actual liver — clearing blood toxins & secreting albumin. Researchers are confident that the technique can be easily scaled up with monetary support to produce fully functional livers, which can eventually not only end the reliance on organ donors but might actually be safer to use.
Complete Research was published in Journal Biofabrication.