3D printed liver could one day be used for transplants

3D printed liver could one day be used for transplants
Owing to a breakthrough by a Bengaluru-based biotech startup, using artificial liver tissues to study and develop more effective and cheaper drugs for liver-related ailments may soon be common practice.

In a first in the country, scientists from Pandorum Technologies have successfully developed 3D-bio printed mini liver tissues or ‘mini livers’ that besides being used as a more accurate platform for drug testing, can also be used in full-scale liver transplants in the long run.

The liver tissues are produced using human liver cells and other supporting cells. Placed in precise three dimensional tissue architectures, these cells are encapsulated in a kind of hydrogel that acts as bio-ink.

They are then bio-printed using an indigenously developed 3D bio-printer. “As much as $10 billion is spent on developing a drug. Drug trials on animals and using 2D models cannot exactly replicate the conditions of a human body. In addition to this, human trials take five to 10 years and even after all this, it is not exactly sure that the drug will work. On the contrary there are many clinical and medical applications of an artificial organ,” said Arun Chandru, co-founder and director, Pandorum Technologies.

Explaining the possibilities of more development in the area, Chandru said while printing 10 million cells can lead to lab tissues that can be used for more effective medical research and drugs, printing 100 billion cells can in fact lead to full-scale organ transplants of livers and  kidneys that can meet any demand.

“Presently there is a requirement for 60,000 to 75,000 liver transplants in the country, however only around 1,500 are being carried out. Besides reducing the cost of carrying out medical research by 20 per cent to 30 per cent, this technology can lead to an increase in the availability of organs,” said Chandru.

While liver transplants cost around 20 lakhs, it would be difficult to tell whether the cost involved in transplanting artifical livers could be done at a cheaper price at this stage, when the technology is still in its nascent stages, said Dr Sonal Asthana, Senior Consultant-HPB and Transplantation, Aster Integrated Liver Care, Sahakar Nagar.

According to the World Health Organisation (WHO), over 2 lakh deaths in the country occur due to liver related diseases. Incubated at the Centre for Cellular and Molecular Platforms (C-CAMP) at the National Centre for Biological Sciences (NCBS) since 2012, the startup has so far spent as much as Rs one crore on developing artificial liver tissue. Most of the funding has come from the government in the form of cash prizes from various competitions and grants.

Apart from liver tissues, the startup is also in the process of developing skin, pancreas and kidney tissues. Countries like USA and Japan have also been successful in carrying out similar research.

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