The Methuselah Foundation, the organization behind the New Organ initiative, places a strong emphasis on tissue engineering as one of the important pillars of the future of improved health and longevity. The Foundation invested in bioprinting company Organovo back when they were an early stage startup and maintains a strong relationship with that organization and its allies today.
The important thing to realize about much of the still young tissue engineering industry, bioprinting included, is that therapies involving constructed tissues are not yet a major concern for commercial development - although there is a lot of research taking place with that in mind. By necessity the initial products that provide revenue for the next phase of development must make use of small amounts of tissue, as the challenges in constructing scaffolds and blood vessel networks for larger structures are still a significant hurdle. At this point that largely means selling production line model tissues to research focused institutions in the pharmaceutical industry, where scientists can use them to conduct better and more consistent studies. There is a world of difference between cells in a flat petri dish and cells organized into a functional tissue. Many lines of research flounder on that difference, and given widely available model tissues these unfortunate projects might have been redirected or adjusted much more rapidly.
Here is an example of the sort of tissue product that is emerging from the industry at the moment, clearly aimed at research institutions as customers. This line of business is a logical stepping stone on the way to the eventual goal of building real, functional organs from scratch as needed. Each advance along the way has to be made profitable in order to support the next stage:
Organovo's exVive3D Liver Models are bioprinted, living 3D human liver tissues consisting of primary human hepatocytes, stellate, and endothelial cell types, which are found in native human liver. The exVive3D Liver Models are created using Organovo's proprietary 3D bioprinting technology that builds functional living tissues containing precise and reproducible architecture. The tissues are functional and stable for at least 42 days, which enables assessment of drug effects over study durations that well beyond those offered by industry-standard 2D liver cell culture systems.
Organovo has previously shown that exVive3D Liver Models produce important liver proteins including albumin, fibrinogen and transferrin, synthesize cholesterol, and possess inducible cytochrome P450 enzymatic activities. The exVive 3D Liver has successfully differentiated between structurally related compounds with known toxic and non-toxic profiles in human beings, and the model has also been employed successfully in the detection of metabolites at extended time points in vitro. Importantly, the configuration of the bioprinted liver tissues enables both biochemical and histologic data to be collected so that a customer can investigate compound responses at multiple levels.
Separately, the Methuselah Foundation is presently working with Organovo and a number of research institutions to put the latest in tissue printers into the hands of more researchers. This is another way to help speed things up in the laboratory: more tools for more workers.
"We are excited to begin this collaboration with Organovo and are honored to be part of Methuselah's University 3D Bioprinter Program, which gives our key researchers access to cutting-edge 3D bioprinting technology," said Dr. John Geibel, Vice Chairman, Director of Surgical Research, and Professor of Surgery and Cellular and Molecular Physiology at Yale University. "This collaboration is a great way to bring the best minds of both worlds to solve a major research and medical goal - using bioprinting to produce transplantable tissues."
Under Methuselah's University 3D Bioprinter Program, Methuselah is donating at least $500,000 in direct funding to be divided among several institutions for Organovo bioprinter research projects. This funding will cover budgeted bioprinter costs, as well as other aspects of project execution. "Developing organs for surgical implantation will take meaningful efforts and focused partnerships. This collaboration with Yale, which combines their expertise and technology with our own, is one important step in progressing towards implantable, therapeutic tissues," said Keith Murphy, chairman and CEO of Organovo. "We are grateful to the Methuselah Foundation for their generous gift that gives those working towards significant breakthroughs in organ bioprinting an opportunity to use the NovoGen bioprinter and enable greater access to Organovo's powerful platform."