NIH partners with Organovo to test new drugs on 3D printed living tissue

Every newly developed pharmaceutical drug takes a long, winding path before it is ever administered to a human in a clinical trial. It’s first tested in a petri dish and on animals, which, it turns out, are fairly poor ways to predict how successful a drug will be for a human.

Soon, it will be possible to cut out dishes and animals and instead test drugs directly on living human tissue. San Diego-based Organovo, which develops methods to 3D print living tissue, announced today that it will partner with two National Institutes of Health groups to print tissue for medical purposes.

“Researchers who develop new therapies for patients are too often hampered by animal models and traditional cell culture models that are poor predictors of drug efficacy and toxicity in human beings,” Organovo CEO Keith Murphy said in a release. “Our 3D printer creates living human tissues that more closely reproduce in vivo human tissues.”

Organovo will partner with the National Center for Advancing Translational Sciences and the National Eye Institute. While Organovo is currently working independently on printing and commercializing liver tissue for toxicology testing, both NIH partnerships will focus on printing eye tissue. The tissue will also be used to study disease advancement.

The tissue will be printed on Organovo’s┬áNovoGen MMX Bioprinter. It works much like an ink printer, except that it lays down living cells layer-by-layer. Each new layer is supported by gel, which acts as scaffolding until it can be stripped away at the end of the printing process. Cells can be printed in different structures, such as a tube to create an artery. So far, the company has printed liver tissue, bone, blood vessels, muscle, heart tissue and more.