For some perspective on just how thin the printed vasculature is, consider that sheet of printer paper is 100 microns thick. So, the tissue Organovo has printed is the thickness of five sheets of paper stacked on top of each other.
Both Merck and Astellas released data this month at the Society of Toxicology Conference showing that 3D-printed tissue is superior compared to traditional drug testing methods.
The company's technology is now seeing uptake among small, venture capital-backed pharmaceutical companies, which typically work on only one or two drug development projects at a time.
More recently, the technology has also shown the potential for "printing" larger therapeutic tissues used in transplant medicine.
"We're now working toward clinical trials with liver patches for direct transfer to patients," Murphy said. "It's still early on this front; it's not a full organ, which we do think we can get to longer term.
"What we said is how can we help the most people in the shortest time frame. Because we're able to make this liver tissue in a dish, we said let's make something using the same technology but make it as large as possible to put into patients."
What Organovo has produced is a liver "patch" about the size and thickness of a dollar bill that can implanted in patients awaiting a liver transplant.
"What it can do is essentially take these patients...and carry them for one or two years to give them better liver function and allow them a bridge to a transplant," Murphy said. "So it keeps them out of the hospital while they're waiting for a transplant.
"We've got active animal trials going on and we're targeting having it in patients as soon as the year 2020," he added.
In mice, the liver tissue patches have been shown to begin circulating blood as early as seven days after the transplant and for at least 28 days after implantation.
The therapudic liver patch transplants will likely first be used in patients with acute, chronic liver failure and pediatric patients, where the need is most critical. Organovo intends to submit an "Investigational New Drug application to the U.S. Food and Drug Administration for its therapeutic liver tissue.
The total market opportunity for the therapeutic liver transplants exceeds $3 billion in the U.S., according to Organology.
Organovo is not the only research facility working on printing human tissue for implants and drug testing.
Last year, the University of San Diego published a report showing it had succeeded in printing both liver tissue and a vascular system.
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