Medical & Dental

Organovo 3D prints the base structure of a human kidney for drug-testing

3D bioprinting company Organovo, (NASDAQ:ONVO) headquartered in San Diego, CA, has published an article showing successful 3D printing of the microscopic veins that make up a kidney. The findings show significant promise for using 3D printed tissue in drug testing and the study of kidney diseases, which was hinted at in the company’s fiscal report for 2016.

Organovo’s 3D bioprinting process follows the direct 3D printing of cell-laden substrates, as in Harvard’s organ-on-a-chip research, rather than depositing the cells onto a pre-3D printed scaffold.

3D bioprinting the natural structure of kidneys

In this kidney study, published in Frontiers in Physiology, Organovo were able to identify successful binding of kidney cells into a vascular structure that accurately mimics the natural formation of a proximal tubule within the body.

Proximal tubules are a microscopic part of complex vascular structures within the kidney. The first two illustrations on the left show the exploded view of a proximal tubule within the kidney. SEM images on the tight show the cellular structure of a proximal tubule, with labelled extracellular matrix. Image via Organovo
Proximal tubules are a microscopic part of complex vascular structures within the kidney. The first two illustrations on the left show the exploded view of a proximal tubule within the kidney. SEM images on the right show the cellular structure of a proximal tubule, with labelled extracellular matrix. Image via Organovo.

Secondly, the researchers showed proof-of-concept for drug testing on the 3D bioprinting kidney tubule by adding toxic substances.

The final key discovery is reconstruction of a diseased kidney proximal tubule structure. For this, the researchers introduced early stage tubulointerstitial fibrosis to the cells. Tubulointerstitial fibrosis is a condition that causes continuous growth of the extracellular matrix that surrounds the cells, ultimately causing excessive thickening of tissue and kidney disfunction.

Mice aren’t men after all 

The main advantage of conducting research in this way is that the process works with actual human cells, rather than the typical use of cells from mice. Though mice studies have formed the basis of modern medicine, using them as a model for humans is still largely ineffective. Dr. Sharon Presnell, chief scientific officer at Organovo, explains,

Traditional preclinical models often fall short in their ability to inform clinical outcomes accurately, largely due to the limited functionality of simple in vitro models and species differences.

By studying the 3D bioprinted kidney structures, Organovo can apply these findings to therapeutic treatment of kidney illness and disease. The ultimate goal is to produce tissue that can help to regenerate native tissues within the body.

A toxicology test on 3D bioprinted ExVive human kidney tissue. Image via Organovo
A toxicology test on 3D bioprinted ExVive human kidney tissue. Image via Organovo

The company is applying significant effort towards this intent through collaborations with leading medical institutions.

A partnership with the Murdoch Childrens Research Institute in Melbourne, Australia, is focusing on kidney research in particular as their chief partner there, Professor Melissa Little, is the head of the institute’s Kidney Research Laboratory.

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Featured image 3D bioprinted tissues in petri dishes from Organovo’s liver research. Photo via Organovo. 

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