Biological ‘ink’ used to generate tissue

An MU professor’s work could eventually be used for organ transplants.
Tuesday, February 17, 2004 | 12:00 a.m. CST; updated 3:52 p.m. CDT, Sunday, July 6, 2008

In the future, organs for transplant may come from a printer, not the operating room.

Gabor Forgacs, a professor of theoretical physics and biological sciences at MU, his colleagues and his research team have successfully created tubes of biological tissue using a modified printer and drops of living ink, the MU News Bureau announced.

Forgacs’ work will be published today in the scientific journal “Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.” He shares authorship on the article with MU researchers Adrian Neagu and Karoly Jakab, as well as Vladimir Mironov and Roger R. Markwald, professors at the Medical University of South Carolina.

None of the MU researchers, including Forgacs, could be reached Monday.

However, Forgacs said in a press release that the new technology could eventually be applied to use someone’s own cells to create organs, which could then be put into that person’s body without any risk of rejection.

Forgacs also said the technology could have more immediate benefits.

“A large part of the body is made of tubes,” he said. “We can now make 3-D hollow biological tubes and organ modules, which could potentially be used as grafts, or for doing research on a particular drug using an organ substitute and thus avoiding any hazard.”

To create the tube, Forgacs and his associates used specially modified printers, according to the News Bureau. First, the printer sets down a layer of gel onto a petri dish. Then, it places drops of bio ink — a combination of water, growth additives and thousands of living cells — on top of the gel in a circular pattern.

These first two steps are repeated several times to create a stack of bio ink, stabilized by the gel. Eventually, the bio ink fuses to become a tube.

Embryonic mouse cells were used in the bio ink, said Markwald, reached at his home in Mount Pleasant, S.C.

Markwald said the research could have some important benefits in areas other than organ growth. “We gathered data that will help us in the future when we are looking at and replacing heart valves,” he said.

The abstract for Forgacs’ article said researchers found that, depending on the amount of tension between the surface of the bio ink and the surface of the gel, the cells either fused into a tube or dissipated into the gel surrounding it.

“This study suggests that you have to provide the proper environment and place the cell aggregates in the correct geometrical shape,” Forgacs said. “After that, the biological system takes over and completes the structure.”

The researchers now plan to obtain a patent for the bio ink and to try to secure more money for the research.

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