Some years back, the Methuselah Foundation partnered with NASA to launch the Vascular Tissue Challenge, to attempt to spur greater efforts on the part of research groups and companies working on the production of vascularized tissue. The presence of a sufficiently small-scale, dense vascular network is the limiting factor in the size of engineered tissue that can be produced via techniques such as bioprinting. Absent a capillary network, nutrients can only perfuse a few millimeters into solid tissue. Building a life-like vasculature of hundreds of tiny capillaries passing through every square millimeter of tissue in cross-section has proven to be a challenge, but one that numerous teams are now making meaningful progress towards solving.
Methuselah Foundation, which co-sponsored the Vascular Tissue Challenge with NASA, today announced the award-winning researchers achieved scientific breakthroughs that promise to dramatically change the future of human health. The first and second place Challenge winners announced by NASA today are the first scientific teams to engineer and sustain thick functioning human tissue in a lab. The Challenge, first conceived by Methuselah Foundation in 2013, was conducted to increase the pace of bioengineering innovations to benefit humans on Earth and future space explorers.
Eleven teams competed in the Challenge to produce an in-vitro, vascularized organ tissue that is more than 1 centimeter thick. Winning tissue had to provide adequate blood flow and survive at least 30 days. The first-place winner was Team Winston from the Wake Forest Institute for Regenerative Medicine, affiliated with Wake Forest School of Medicine. The team, led by Dr. James Yoo, was awarded $300,000. It will also receive $200,000 from CASIS (Center for the Advancement of Science in Space), to fund the cost of conducting a tissue generation experiment in zero gravity.
The second-place winner was Team WFIRM, also from the Wake Forest Institute for Regenerative Medicine. That team, led by Dr. Anthony Atala, was awarded $100,000. Both groups created lab-grown human liver tissues that were robust enough to survive and function like healthy liver tissue found inside our bodies. Winning entries were built using 3D printing technologies. Ongoing progress will ultimately enable physicians to 3D print human organs with a patient's unique DNA.