Reviewed by Jatin Kumar (Biotech communicator)

Every day countless people are suffering and dying from diseases because life-saving drugs often fail to get to the market, in fact 90% of new drugs that show promise in the lab or on animals, fail in humans and never end up making it to your pharmacy, these drug failures are tragic. While developing a safe and effective drug is a risky, time-consuming and expensive process.

Did you know that it takes on average 12 years and 2.6 billion dollars to develop just one single drug that works in human!

Maybe you have known someone who needs an organ transplant and finding a donor is not an easy task. Since 1800, scientists have developed vaccine and medicine by growing cells, first in glass Petri dishes and then on animals, drugs that make it through this process enter human trials and only 1 out of 10 drugs is successful, not only failure is extremely common but it also really expensive. It costs about 200 million dollars per failed drug. If we were to double the success rate in human trials from 1 in 10 to just 2 in 10, we could save hundreds of millions of dollars and more importantly the human lives.

Normally in organ transplants, the body may reject an incoming organ, this is due to the immune system sensing antigens in the cells of the organ which do not match to the rest of the body cells. For kidneys, about 25% of transplant patients experience an episode of severe rejection in the first year of transplant and in the case of heart transplants that number rises to 40%.

So, What if we can engineer human tissues, a part of a real person but outside of their body (in vitro) and test drugs on these tissues before human trials?

By this, we can more accurately determine if a drug is safe and effective before human
testing. In the recent years with the advent of 3D Bio-printing, the 2D petri dish has now been upgraded to another dimension; and a revolution has been started to develop lab-grown organs for transplants as well as drug testing.

WHAT IS 3D BIOPRINTING?

3D Bioprinting is a process of creating life-like functional structure layer by layer, by using biomaterials like cells and some growth factors as “Bio-ink”; the technology is much similar to that of conventional 3D printing. How it works – a sample of cells can be taken from the patient and a 3D organ can be printed with personal Hydrogel made from his own cells (Bio-ink). This potentially resolves the issues of rejection.

CURRENT ADVANCEMENTS  

Researchers at Israel’s Tel Aviv University have just successfully printed a 3D heart with complete muscles and blood vessels, made from real human cells; previously this was only achieved with non-organic materials such as silicon. Cells that made the heart came from a donor fat tissue which is transformed into embryonic stem cells and then differentiated into various cell types in the heart. This was the first time anyone, anywhere has successfully engineered and printed an entire heart replacing with cells, blood vessels, ventricles, and chambers. Besides this, some obstacles still stand in the way while the cells can contract, they do not possess the ability to pump, which is the next objective of the researchers. A team at Mc Master University in Canada has developed a rapid magnetic 3D bioprinting system which can build a replica of a cancerous tumour in as little as six hours. The idea is then to test different drugs and treatments changing the doses and frequency to see which one works the best. Then after the lab testing the patients would be given a tailor-made medication, this could not only decrease the side-effects but more-importantly will increase the chances of survival of the patients.

FUTURE CONCERNS

This recent breakthrough of 3D printing a heart with real human cells foreshadows a future where on-demand organs are available without waiting lists. According to some estimates, this reality could be less than a decade away. So all of this raises some interesting questions for human life, How much longer could we extend our lives if we easily could replace our body parts, would most people want to do that and what about the price of the new organ. Will everyone is able to afford it? High capacity lungs that can provide oxygen more efficiently or heart attack proof hearts that are resistant to failure. The future biotech is an interesting one, as we move from making the best cars, phones and computers perhaps the next big revolution will be the upgrading of our bodies. So what’s your opinion on such a future do you think that it will prevent early deaths and suffering, or does this kind of thing bothers you and should we let Nature take its course.