MIAMI (CBSMiami) – A biotech firm is on the cutting edge of creating organ tissue outside the human body.

Organovo uses 3D printing technology that could one day build made-to-order human organs.

The 3D “bioprinters” are loaded with different types human cells used to print living organ tissue.

“What the bioprinter does is it actually positions cells and puts them in the right place and we can make an entire structure that turns into a living tissue,” said Organovo CEO Keith Murphy.

Think of it like an ink-jet printer but instead of ink, scientist use cells taken from a patient’s own body and print small tissue clusters.

“One of the more complex things that we’ve built is a blood vessel, an artery structure, that is a multi-layer structure,” said Murphy. “That’s about a little bit larger than a spaghetti noodle, but we can make these up to five centimeters long.”

Right now, the tiny tissues can be kept alive outside the body for about 40 days and can be used to test drugs, according to Murphy.

“So, you might have a biopsy of someone’s tumor and you use that to build a tumor model outside the body to test different drug regimens that might benefit that patient,” Murphy said.

Drug testing is one thing but the most exciting aspect of Organovo’s 3D bioprinting technology is the company’s long-term goal of creating organs for eventual implant.

“Over time, we hope to build something that’s larger and larger. One of the challenges to doing that is going to be able to build blood vessels inside of these larger tissues,” said Murphy.

The prospect of made-to-order organs would help thousands of future patients who find themselves on organ transplant waiting lists.

For example, 3-month-old Nancy Magana had to wait seven weeks at a hospital before she could get a lung transplant.

“It is hard to wait because you can see your baby is getting worse every day and you don’t want them to pass away,” said the child’s mother, Fernanda Magana.

Transplant patients also have to take anti-rejection drugs for the rest of their lives, but if the organ can be made from the patient’s own cells, rejection would not be a problem.

“It’s very hard to find donors for these organs. There are waiting lists because there’s not enough sources,” said Murphy. “So being able to make something from one’s own cells opens up the number of patients we can get organs to over time.”

It could be years or even decades before companies like Organovo will be able to create entire organs outside the body.

Initially, the company will focus on drug testing and eventually end up printing small patches of tissue that can repair damaged kidneys or livers.

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