For many years, scientists have struggled to come up with a way to make tissues and organs out of raw cell materials. There was a leap forward with 3d printing technologies, but 3d printing of biotissues has its limitations. It is only able to print sheets of live tissue, without vascularization, and doesn’t have the ability to essentially form layers upon layers of tissue. With the introduction of 3d printing, the technological capabilities have increased with every year, but they are still not up to the task of creating whole human organs.

Scientists from Brown University have created a device called Bio-Pick, Place and Perfuse (BioP3). The lead researcher Jeffrey Morgan and his team of innovators have developed the BioP3 as a miniature organ factory able to compile microtissues, which are the building block of functional tissues. The innovation doesn’t stop there, because as the team suggests, the device has the potential to compile entire organs.

 Morgan is confident that, "in contrast to 3-D bioprinting that prints one small drop at a time, our approach is much faster because it uses pre-assembled living building parts with functional shapes and a thousand times more cells per part."

The team has shown that the BioP3 can be easily assembled with cheap parts from any hardware store and this can be accomplished for less than $200. The fundamental parts of the device consist of a transparent plastic box with two chambers, one for storing microtissues and the other for stacking and compiling the building blocks. A nozzle with a permeable membrane tip is then used by an operator to manually suction and pick up the microtissues one by one to assemble the finished product on a platform. Series of tubes provide a steady stream of fluid to perfuse nutrients and remove waste. The stacked microtissues bond with one another, forming a single biological structure, that the researchers say can survive for days.

"We are just at the beginning of understanding what kinds of living parts we can make and how they can be used to design vascular networks within the structures," says Morgan.

The team has accomplished several proof-of-concept structures including a stack of 16 donut rings and a stack of four honeycombs. Although this feat is not comparable to a whole organ, the team suggests that if the process of stacking was automated, this could be accomplished in the future. To date, the team has made structures with various cell types, including H35 liver cells, KGN ovarian cells and MCF-7 breast cancer cells.

 Due to the novelty of such an approach, the team has received a grant from the National Science Foundation (NSF) for $1.4 million. The grant will go toward automating the stacking process to speed up production.

According to widely available statistics, over 100,000 people in the U.S. are waiting for an organ donation, a large percentage of which may never live to receive one. If this new device can build organs out of raw materials, the lives of people in dire need of a transplant may be saved.