An Overview of Organovo

Here is a popular science level overview of the work of Organovo, a tissue engineering company supported by the Methuselah Foundation, and with a focus on developing the technology needed to make bioprinting a commercial reality. As the article notes, these are early days yet and some years of development lie ahead, but medical technology like bioprinters tends to improve rapidly once it finds its first market application:

Scientists edge closer to printing human tissue

As of right now, the benefit for humans is still years away, perhaps as many as four, said Organovo CEO Keith Murphy. And when and if the company's technology gets certified and hits the market, it will probably have limited application: most likely, the technology could be used at first mainly for crafting very small areas of tissue or new blood vessels. But even those limited applications could mean, for example, that doctors may eventually have the ability to intervene in cases where, for example, a patient has a blocked or damaged blood vessel, and potentially prevent what might otherwise result in a forced amputation. Similarly, someone with damaged nerves could have a gap in a nerve bridged using regenerated cells printed by Organovo's machine.

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And, Murphy said, the uses for the bioprinting technology are only just being discovered. "With the right funding, we think they can grow this by leaps and bounds...We hope researchers can see if [they can] get to larger and larger pieces of tissue by printing into their architecture...a branch of blood vessels."

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"I don't think anyone should imagine we'll be printing complete organs in the next year or so," Kraft said. "But like 3D printing, bioprinting" seems like it has the potential for exponential growth. And that means it could just be a short matter of time before medicine and science conquer some of the limits in bioprinting that today seem insurmountable.

Organovo has been in the press a great deal of late, which I think is one of the signs that the broader public understands and supports the goal of building new organs in a way that is still lacking for the goal of engineering greater human longevity. We who advocate funding and progress in longevity science would do well to look behind the scenes and try to better understand why regenerative medicine is such a popular success.

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