Mini livers can be printed within 90 days

A new study suggests mini livers can be successfully printed in the laboratory within 90 days. This could have profound implications for transplant patients around the world.

Scientists have successfully grown ‘mini livers’ in the laboratory in a breakthrough which could provide an alternative to organ transplant. [1]

Figures from the NHS suggest thousands of people’s lives [2] are being put at risk by the wait for organ transplant. For those living with organ failure, the wait for a suitable donor can be agonising.

Longevity.Technology: 3D bioprinting has tremendous potential for helping organ patients receive the life saving transplants they desperately need. While fully functioning organs still lie in the future, innovations such as this shows scientists are making rapid progress.

The answer, many believe, could lie in 3D bioprinting. Activity is accelerating rapidly as any reader of longevity will have noticed. Before Christmas, for example, we covered CELLINK’s new partnership with Made in Space on the International Space Station. Meanwhile, the University of Minho is spinning out a new bioprinting start-up.

In this latest breakthrough, researchers at the Human Genome and Stem Cell Research Center (HUG-CELL) successfully created hepatic organoids which perform all of the liver’s functions such as storage of vitamins, bile secretion, protein production and many others.

Their innovative approach allows them to produce the hepatic tissue within the laboratory in just 90 days and ensures tissue retains hepatic functions for longer than in previous studies.

The key has been how the cells were included in the boiling which produces tissue within the 3D printer. Rather than just printing cells individually, researchers managed to regroup them before printing and, as such, produced clumps of cells or spheroids. These constitute the tissue and allow it to retain functionality for longer.

Although still in relatively early stages, researchers hope this could pave the way to a new form of organ transplant in the near future.

“More stages have yet to be achieved until we obtain a complete organ, but we’re on the right track to highly promising results,” said Mayana Zatz, director of HUG-CELL. “In the very near future, instead of waiting for an organ transplant, it may be possible to take cells from the patient and reprogram them to make a new liver in the laboratory.”

While this study only produced ‘mini’ livers, researchers believe that, with further investment and research, they will be able to produce complete organs suitable for transplant, all within 90 days.

Image credit: Daniel Antonio/Agência FAPESP