California-based biotech firm International Stem Cell Corporation (ISCO) has announced the development of a new 3D bioprinting process which could significantly improve the quality and function of its bioprinted liver tissue.
The company, which specializes in stem cell-based therapy development as well as biomedical products, says it has created a new 3D bioprinter that is optimized for bioprinting liver progenitor cells (LPCs). These cells, which can differentiate into cholangiocytes, hepatocytes, and stellate cells, can now be bioprinted into liver-like structures.
These tissue structures, in turn, have the potential to be implanted into a damaged liver or be used for drug screening applications and research.
LPCs, ISCO explains, can be created from “any kind of pluripotent stem cells,” such as human embryonic, induced pluripotent, or parthenogenetic stem cells using the organization’s novel (and proprietary) differentiation system.
“I’m excited to announce that we have developed a new efficient technology to produce 3D liver tissue, which may be able to replace damaged tissue to restore liver functions,” said Russell Kern, PhD, executive vice president and chief scientific officer of ISCO.
The 3D bioprinting technology could also be used to create liver tissue for other uses, including for drug discovery and screening. This, Kern explains, could “open up a potential multi-billion market for ISCO.”
“We have already developed a master cell bank of the liver progenitor cells and we are proceeding to test [the] safety and efficacy of the cells in various models of liver diseases like liver cirrhosis and fibrosis” he added.
With its announcement, ISCO is joining a relatively small number of 3D bioprinting and biotech companies that are developing implantable 3D printed liver tissue. The liver bioprinting initiatives, which are being undertaken by such companies as Organovo, as well as other research institutions in addition to ISCO, are aimed at providing a solution for the long list of patients waiting for a liver transplant.
In the U.S. alone, an estimated 17,000 people are on the liver transplant waiting list, and only 6,000 liver transplants are completed each year. Having the means to 3D bioprint patient-specific liver tissue could therefore prove a promising alternative to liver transplants.
Importantly, having an option other than patient-to-patient transplantation could save lives. (ISCO reports that roughly 17 per cent of patients on the waiting list who are in the final stages of chronic progressive liver disease will die.)
Like with most 3D bioprinting projects, we are anxious to see how the testing process goes and whether ISCO’s 3D bioprinter will prove a viable solution to liver transplantation waiting lists.