While the world has already seen the success of 3D dental and orthopedic implants, the next big challenge has been to develop whole new 3D human organs. (Shutterstock)
What comes to your mind when you think of 3D human organ? A computer-generated structure? What if scientists could actually inject life into this structure and help patients get a new lease of life?
Born in the aftermath of the pandemic, a Bengaluru-based deep tech start-up — Avay Biosciences — is attempting to do their bit to transform this long-held dream into a reality, printing one layer of live human tissues at a time. The team of young entrepreneurs has just launched their first product — the indigenous advanced 3D Bioprinter ‘Mito Plus’ — which has been successfully tested at Indian Institute of Science (IISc) Bangalore, and is ready to print human tissues.
Can Human Organs Be Printed?
A 3D bio-printer works almost exactly like a printer does. The only difference is that instead of plastic, metal or powders, it uses human cells and bio-materials as bio-ink to print layers of whole-new functional human tissues like skin, and perhaps a full-fledged new body organ one day. It is essentially a way of artificially replicating human tissues.
“3D bio-printing is a unique gift to humanity by science and technology,” says CEO Manish Amin of the novel technique that is still at a nascent stage but growing fast with a hundred such companies globally mostly in the US and Europe, and a handful of them in India.
The market for bioprinting has grown steadily over the last decade and is globally valued a $1.3 billion and projected to reach $3.3 billion by 2027. India too has seen a growing interest in such biotech start-ups with support from Biotechnology Industry Research Assistance Council (BIRAC) that funds early-stage companies.
Two years since its launch, Amin is hopeful of the company’s growth amid an increasing demand for drug discovery and organ transplants, especially skin. The start-up has already collaborated with the country’s premier research institutes — IIT Madras, National Institute of Pharmaceutical Education and Research (NIPER), Hyderabad, and BITS Pilani where the bio-printer is being used for the purpose of research.
“There is increasing demand from pharmaceutical sector where they still have to rely on living subjects for drug discovery and testing which is both inconvenient and expensive. Bioprinting can help provide living tissues for testing and has potential in cancer biology and cosmetology applications. Skin printing is a key area since there is huge demand due to patients with extensive burns,” he shares.
Hope Amid Endless Wait For Organ Transplants
While the world has already seen the success of 3D dental and orthopedic implants, the next big challenge has been to develop whole new 3D human organs.
Bioprinting can revolutionise the healthcare market and holds promise of achieving that long-held dream that offers hope to millions of patients stuck in an endless wait for organ transplants — a list that gets longer every minute with a new name added to it. Researchers are using it to create cardiac patches for heart patients, print skin into a burn wound.
The availability of cost-effective bio-printers is an essential step in developing artificial organs, since all future research depends on this infrastructure, a space that the start-up aims to fill.
“Thousands of lives are lost every year in India alone due to the lack of suitable organ donors. Our approach to the creation of entirely new organs begins with the journey of creating new tissue samples that is a critical stepping stone for a very long-term and difficult journey,” says chief operating officer Suhridh Sundaram, an IIT Madras alumnus.
The team is constantly adding new features and building better software that supports various tissue engineering applications to help scientists achieve their mission. It has recently collaborated with the Institute of Chemical Technology (ICT), Mumbai, whose scientists are using 3D bio-printers to develop skin — the most common type of layered tissue that could help victims of severe burns. These tissues can also be used for toxicology screens and various other testing mechanisms.
“There are many challenges ahead and still a long way before we can create fully functioning and viable organs for human transplant. It is far more complex. But that would be the goal,” Amin signs off before he quips. “The start-up is also named ‘Avay’, which means ‘organ’ in Sanskrit.”
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