Scientists create human liver tissue using 3D printing technology

The research was a part of the NASA Vascular Tissue Challenge.

Scientists create human liver tissue using 3D printing technology
Artificial tissue created by Winston team. (Picture credits: Wake Forest Institute for Regenerative Medicine)

3D printing technology is a revolution in itself. As the name suggests, it enables the development of a 3D model of objects and things. But, what if one can replicate even a living tissue with a 3D printer? As part of NASA’s Vascular Tissue Challenge, scientists have just grown a replica of liver tissues. It is not just a 3D model of human liver tissues, but can actually function like a real one. The liver tissues created by the scientists can function for 30 days in the lab. The technology might be helpful in doing artificial organ transplantation in future.

NASA launched this competition back in 2016. The challenge outlined the participants to produce vascularized human organ tissue in an in-vitro environment. The aim of the competition was to advance research on medicine for long-duration space missions. During space missions, the absence of gravity leads to certain complications in the human body. Building tissues in space can help scientists to learn about these influences better. The competition also wanted to improve medical sciences for better treatments. The competition has found two winning teams. However, the competition is not over yet. It will go on till they find the third runner-up for their competition.

Both teams comprised experts from Wake Forest Institute for Regenerative Medicine, (WFIRM) North Carolina. They took first and second place in the competition using two distinct ways to produce lab-grown human liver tissue. The winning team, called team Winston, is the first to complete its experiment with the modified tissue within the challenge guidelines and will get $300,000 as well as the option to continue this study onboard the International Space Station. WFIRM, The second-place team, will get $100,000. Two other teams are still working toward a third place, which also includes a $100,000 award.

Both the winning teams created their tissue using 3D printing methods. The teams were required by the challenge criteria to keep their tissues alive for 30-day trials. However, in order for the tissue to survive, the teams needed to find out how to transfer nutrients and oxygen through their construct as well as how to eliminate waste. This process is called perfusion, and it is carried out through blood arteries in organs, live tissues. However, to perform this process artificially is a very tough thing.

Using distinct materials and 3D-printed designs, the two teams created various gel-like frames for their tissues, each with pathways for oxygen and nutrients to flow through. The teams were successful in getting nutrients to pass through their artificial blood arteries without spilling them.