San Diego company's special printer delivering results

Bioprinter has re-created lung tissue, tumors

SAN DIEGO -  

A local company is making national headlines for a printer that doesn't just produce life-like images, it creates something living.

The wait for organ transplants can be long and frustrating, but what if you needed an organ and could simply print one out?

"It's like creating sculptures out of cells," said Keith Murphy, CEO of Organovo.

Enter the Bioprinter from San Diego-based Organovo. In an inkjet printer, the cartridge sprays ink and forms an image. The Bioprinter sprays ink of living cells.

"The printer places those, like little Lego building blocks, into a 3D structure, layer by layer, it puts cells in the right place," said Murphy.

Two years after Organovo developed the printer, the results are coming out.

The company has re-created blood vessel walls, lung tissue, even tumors, which will help other companies to develop better drugs for diseases.

"We've added a lot of staff and we're growing," said Murphy.

Organovo isn't yet selling the printer, which costs in the hundreds of thousands of dollars. Instead, it's sharing the printer with research partners, which may hasten the path to a long-term goal of producing organs for transplants.

"You can potentially make things like livers, kidney or lungs from a patient's own cells," said Murphy.

A giant challenge remains -- how to keep the organ alive once it's created.

"You have to build blood vessels within that because all tissues need oxygen and nutrients. Until we can cross that hurdle, we’re limited in how big we can make them," said Murphy.

Researchers at Cornell University are printing experimental heart valves and knee cartilage, while scientists at Wake Forest University are printing out kidney cells.

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