A human tissue engineering company has invented a new way to create what it says are viable human organs — including microvascular infrastructure — using near instantaneous 3D printing.
The development by Prellis Biologics in the US could be a revolution for hospitals and healthcare systems with long lists of patients waiting for donor organs.
Founded by two scientists with extensive experience in 3D tissue imaging and stem cell biology, Prellis Biologics says it is solving the greatest obstacle to producing functional human tissue in the lab — the ability to print the complex microvascular system needed to supply nutrients and oxygen to cells, without which an organ cannot survive.
“Our vision is to create a company that uses technology to print any type of human organ, providing people with a long-lasting solution to a given medical issue,” said Melanie Matheu, co-founder and CEO of Prellis Biologics.
“We believe our technology will jumpstart the practical use of lab-printed tissue for life-saving drug development, rapid development of human antibodies, and production of human organs for transplant.”
A challenge in printing human tissue is the creation of the tiny blood vessels that make up an organ’s microvasculature. Without them, cells starve for oxygen and nutrients and can’t remove wastes. This has limited scientists to printing tissue no thicker than a dollar bill.
By building scaffolding that includes microvascular structures, Prellis Biologics is working on solving this problem. These thicker tissues are the building blocks of functional organs.
“By coupling stem cell and immunology expertise with our 3D printing technology, we’ll be able to produce organs and tissues with the precise vascular infrastructure necessary to make them viable,” said Noelle Mullin, co-founder and chief scientific officer at Prellis Biologics.
In Australia, about 1400 people are on organ transplant waiting lists at any time for periods of usually six months to four years, although it can be longer. Hundreds of additional people who could benefit from a transplant are on kidney dialysis. In 2016, 503 deceased donors gave organs to 1447 Australians, the largest numbers on record.
True Ventures, a Silicon Valley venture capital firm specialising in early-stage technology start-ups, just led a US$1.8 million seed investment in Prellis Biologics. Civilisation Ventures and 415 Ventures also joined, along with angel investors. This round follows early support by IndieBio, an accelerator for biotech start-ups run by SOSV. Investment in the 10-month-old company totals US$1.92 million.
The technology will be brought to market in phases, the company said. The first lab-grown tissues will be used to produce antibodies for therapeutics and address issues associated with pharmaceutical development and testing.
Currently, drug companies must test new drugs using animal models that do not accurately predict toxicity or efficacy in humans, and human clinical trials can be both time-consuming and harmful to patients.
The first human tissue Prellis Biologics will print for clinical development are islets of langerhans, the functional unit of the pancreas that produces insulin.
“Type 1 diabetics lose insulin-producing islets of langerhans at a young age,” Matheu said.
“If we can replace these, we can offer diabetes patients a life free of daily insulin shots and glucose monitoring.”
Due to the substantial unmet need for human tissue and organ replacement alternatives, as well as human tissue for drug discovery and toxicology testing, the global tissue engineering market was estimated at US$23 billion in 2015 and is projected to reach US$94 billion by 2024, according to “Tissue Engineering Market Analysis, Market Size, Application Analysis, Regional Outlook, Competitive Strategies and Forecasts, 2016 To 2024,” from Hexa Research.