The New Organ initiative aims to greatly speed progress towards the tissue engineering of patient-matched organs as needed: a vision of no more waiting, no more transplant rejection, and a much lower cost of organ renewal, all leading to a far greater number of people who may benefit from these medical advances. The initiative is managed by the Methuselah Foundation, alongside the Mprize for longevity science, early stage investments in tissue engineering companies such as Organovo, and a range of other distinct projects such as sequencing the bowhead whale genome in search of greater insight as to why the range of mammalian longevity is so wide. The Methuselah Foundation was also at one point the home of SENS rejuvenation research programs before they spun off into their own organization, the SENS Research Foundation.
Late last year, the New Organ Liver Prize launched at the World Stem Cell Summit, a $1 million research prize to accelerate the creation of a functional bioengineered replacement liver. Today the Methuselah Foundation announced the first six contending teams. These researchers take a broad range of different approaches to organ tissue engineering, and one thing to bear in mind is that an engineered organ doesn't necessarily have to look like or be structured in the same way as the evolved organ it replaces or augments - it just has to do the same job. Can a patient benefit from scores of tiny liver-like tissue masses sheltered in lymph nodes that perform some of the functions of a damaged liver? Quite possibly.
Great news! Today, we're announcing a major milestone: the first six teams to officially compete for the New Organ Liver Prize. These teams represent scientists from Harvard Medical School, Massachusetts General Hospital, Northwick Park Institute for Medical Research, University College of London, University of Florida, University of Oxford, University of Pittsburgh, and Yokohama City University, and are being led by:
- Dr. Tahera Ansari (Team Hepavive): Pursuing the 'decell-recell' approach to bioengineering a liver.
- Dr. Stephen Badylak (Team Badylak): A pioneer in biologic scaffolds using extracellular matrix.
- Dr. Eric Lagasse (Team Ectogenesis): Grew mini-livers inside the lymph nodes of mice with liver disease.
- Dr. Bryon Petersen (Team Petersen): An authority on the role of hepatic stem cells in liver pathology.
- Dr. Takanori Takebe (Team Organ Creative): Created tiny 'liver buds' that grew and functioned in mice.
- Dr. Basak Uygun (Team HepaTx): First proof-of-principle transplantation of engineered liver grafts.
For full bios, please visit the team page and let us know what you think. Additional teams are also under review and will be announced in a future update. Good luck to all!
New Organ Founder and Methuselah CEO David Gobel: "We are gratified to see the initial interest in the Liver Prize. We are doing this because of the millions who need new organs. Organ disease, and the associated organ shortage, represents one of the greatest medical challenges that can be solved. A scientific foundation has been built over the last 15 years to pursue the vision of organs on demand. It's time for a significant societal commitment to that vision."
Representing distinguished leaders within regenerative medicine, the Founding Fellows of the Tissue Engineering and Regenerative Medicine International Society (TERMIS) remarked: "We strongly and enthusiastically endorse New Organ. Regenerative medicine has made significant advances in the past 15 years and the New Organ Liver Prize represents a golden opportunity for the next leap forward. The public and the medical community will realize a remarkable clinical benefit with the availability of 'off the shelf' whole livers obviating the need for donor organs, and the medical health care system will simultaneously benefit. We hope this forward-looking effort sets the standard that inspires other initiatives to focus all the resources of regenerative medicine on solving major health care challenges."
In a recent newsletter from the Methuselah Foundation there is further news on where things are going with the New Organ Alliance program: there is more of a focus on arms of the US government as a potential source of funds it seems, in addition to building relationships with other groups whose members are working to advance the state of the art in the organ transplant space.
On July 29th, New Organ facilitated a meeting hosted by the Department of Health and Human Services that brought together 10 federal agencies and other stakeholders to explore current efforts in tissue engineering and regenerative medicine (TERM) and the role that incentivized innovation can play in advancing specific challenge targets.
We've also submitted a proposal for a workshop entitled "Building a TERM Roadmap for Organ Disease" to several potential convening partners. The outline proposes a gathering of 75 scientific, government, industry, and philanthropic leaders committed to advancing biomedical engineering and regenerative medicine breakthrough technologies to address organ disease. Participants will define key challenges at the science and system level; identify enabling technologies and quantitative milestones that can be used to inform future research efforts and challenge prize targets; and examine tools and innovation models that can be applied to advance specific goals. Please contact us if you're interested in supporting this effort.
New Organ's close collaboration with the Organ Preservation Alliance (OPA) continues. OPA has proposed key ideas and facilitated input for several Small Business Innovation Research and Small Business Technology Transfer proposals on tissue and organ cryopreservation, currently under review. OPA also secured basic underwriting for the first global "Grand Challenges in Organ Banking" Summit, to be held in Palo Alto, CA in February of 2015. They've also updated draft rules for the proposed Organ Banking Prize: a challenge competition to demonstrate long-term storage of a solid organ and subsequent transplantation into a human or large animal.
Finally, New Organ is considering the possibility of a new Vasculature Prize to stimulate the vascularization of thick, functional tissue. Details on this effort, which is currently being explored in coordination with a federal agency, will be forthcoming as discussions progress.