Organovo, a life sciences startup, recently succeeded in “printing” chicken heart cells in a petri dish, that resulted in tissue that actually beat, in the way a real heart would!


Organovo, is in the process of bringing to market a pioneering 3D tissue engineering process that promises to revolutionize the testing of pharmaceutical drugs and eventually provide a means to build organs for transplantation.

Pharmaceutical companies typically test promising new drugs on animals before undertaking expensive human testing. Often enough, side effects emerge in humans that were not present during the animal trials. Not surprisingly, this process is lengthy and costs pharmaceutical companies millions. Consequently many drugs never reach the consumer market. Also, each year, the number of patients awaiting organ transplantation continues to grow and there is an acute shortage of available human organs.

Funded by an NSF grant, Gabor Forgacs, a biophysics researcher and his team at the University of Missouri-Columbia have, over the last four years, perfected a technique of “printing” 3D tissue structures that represent a first step in addressing these problems.

3D tissue

In their study, using a printer that extrudes “bio-ink” cells through a micropipette, the researchers at MU printed particles of chicken heart cells onto large sheets of cell friendly gel. Heart cells have to synchronize in order for the heart ot beat properly and when first printed they did not beat in unison. In time, some 19 hours later, the cells had sorted and fused the tissue structure and started to beat just as a heart would. Remarkably the cells knew what to do to build a beating chicken heart in a petrie dish.

This bio-printing technique is faster and cheaper than other tissue engineering techniques that rely on building a “scaffold” of the desired shape and then seeding it with cells that grow for weeks. Despite the early success of this research, the researchers are many years away from printing organs on demand. The greater and more immediate promise of this technology is the ability to build 3D tissue structures for realistic drug trials that forgoes human and animal testing.

Image courtesy Wired. The top two images show magnified views of the bio-ink cartridge, while the bottom images show newly printed bio-ink blots (left) on bio-paper, and their fusion into a circle (right) within about three days

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