So, Science, Where are the Organs?
Updated: Nov 18, 2020
The Life and Death Shortage of Human Organs and Tissues.
New organs- Kidneys, Livers, and replacement human tissues are precious. As we age, recover from accidents, disease, or hidden genetic predispositions, it becomes clear that there is no alternative to transplantation from another living human or animal.
Daily, we loose cherished family members, friends, children because there is no alternative to a failed engine part for the human body.
The wait-list for organs, despite draconian controls on eligibility, continues to outpace the number of donors. While donor numbers remain flat, recipient wait-lists are growing at a near-exponential rate.
In the United States, 1 in 7 people have Kidney Disease. Kidney Disease, the 9th leading cause of death, comes with an annual price tag of $50 Billion in Medicare spending. Every year, over four thousand people are moved off the wait-list for failing to continue to meet recipient criteria, a death sentence. About every four minutes someone in the US dies for lack of an alternative for a failing Kidney or Liver. This article, is a four minute read.
People often gather together to create donation life-lines in the form of human chains for Kidney donation in which 5 or 6 people undergo a transplant exchange so that one perfect match can save a life. These donor-heros, each one of them, suffer lifelong consequences; taking a Tylenol for a headache is no longer an option. It could damage the remaining Kidney too much. Aggressive Cancer, resulting from chronic suppression of the immune system (to prevent organ rejection) leads to a 3-times higher rate of death among recipients.
The elegance of human organ development can not be overstated; complex high-functioning three dimensional organs and tissues are created from single cells in a matter of months.
Scientists have worked tirelessly to understand the complexity behind the process of organ development. Dialing the cellular clock back to stem-cells, and carefully documenting developmental steps along the way. These efforts have paid off. Scientists understand the pathways necessary to complete tissue and organ regeneration well enough to make the dream of human organ replacement closer than has ever been possible in the course of human history.
But organ replacement technology remains stalled.
Organ development has an engineering problem; a tiny but massive one.
No one can print small enough structures to build the life-giving capillaries and blood vessels that support every organ and tissue in the body.
In creative efforts to build human organs, Engineers have adopted the ink-jet versions of 3D-Printing technology to control the placement of layers of cells. But the resolution is too low to create the network of tiny blood vessels that feed and supply every organ and tissue with oxygen and nutrients.
This has left our quest for viable organ and tissue replacements stuck at tissue sheets only the thickness of a piece of paper (about 250 micrometers).
Without these tiny vascular networks cells and tissues must rely on passive diffusion to exchange oxygen, nutrients, and waste products. This causes anything thicker than a piece of paper begins to die off in the center because oxygen and nutrients can not be exchanged fast enough to keep the cells alive.
Some approaches can achieve the necessary resolution to print tiny blood vessels, but the printing speed is so slow that a tissue the size of a light switch takes a week. A light bulb?
Over a month. Within a few days cells begin to die off while being printed.
During my PhD training in Immunology, we had a special approach to studying how the immune system worked. Using a non-toxic high-powered laser we could watch individual immune cells or white blood cells move in the tissues and organs of living animals. For nearly 15 years of my career we took videos in every organ and tissue possible, asking interesting questions about how we fight off bacteria, viruses, and cure autoimmune disease.
But there was always a persistent background signal, fibers that would show up in each image — a brilliant beautiful blue color.
These fibers are the major component (60–80%) of organs and tissues: collagen.
A life-long academic scientist, my own light-bulb went off one day when I realized our high-resolution, non-toxic laser could not only pick up the signal of this primary component of tissue, but we can create it.
While peering at these images and the healthy cells in living tissues it became clear that by reverse engineering these microscopes, we could rapidly create high-resolution structures in any shape we can dream of, yes, even tiny vascular networks.
The same tiny vascular networks that allow every organ, every tissue in the body to survive and function.
In October of 2016 Dr. Noelle Mullin, PhD an expert in stem cell biology, and I, (Dr. Melanie Matheu, PhD) founded Prellis Biologics, Inc. We are a tissue engineering company dedicated to wiping out the organ shortage, and finding ways to replace our aging or broken parts, with organs built from a patients own cells.
Follow us as we make our way from the Biotech Accelerator IndieBio in San Francisco, CA to Demo-Day September 14th, 2017 to your physicians tool-box for a healthier world.