Skeletal Muscle Printed with Organovo’s 3-D Printer

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Credit: Frank Rogozienski/Wonderful Machine

Fantastical scenes from The Fifth Element may come to mind when you hear about organ printing. Though we’re nowhere near the bizarre but entertaining 25 seconds it took the movie’s scientists to reconstruct a complete human being, we still live in exciting, futuristic times.

Now, skeletal muscle tissue is but one of several classes of tissue, including cardiac, lung, and blood vessels that can be built from a 3-D printer.

A thin layer of human skeletal muscle is being printed by Chirag Khatiwala in a small, sterile room of San Diego-based startup Organovo. Each muscle cell from the company’s signature 3-D printer is uniformly deposited in closely spaced lines on a petri dish. This allows the cells to grow and interconnect until they form working muscle tissue nearly indistinguishable from a human muscle biopsy.

Unlike other experimental approaches that utilize ink-jet printers to deposit cells, Organovo’s technology enables cells to interact with each other the way they do in the body. How? They are packed tightly together, sandwiched, if you will, and incubated. This prompts them to cleave to each other and interchange chemical signals. When printed, the cells are grouped together in a paste that helps them grow, migrate, and align themselves properly. In the case of muscle cells, the way they orient themselves in the same direction allow for contractions of the tissue.

Yet another critical need could be addressed by this advanced technology: Because Organovo’s product is so similar to native human tissue, it could help researchers identify drugs that will fail long before they reach clinical trials, potentially saving drug companies billions of dollars. Many potential drugs that only seem promising when tested in cell cultures or animals fail because both specimens are very different from human tissue.

But its ultimate goal is to use the 3-D printer to build complete organs for transplants. Because the organs would be comprised of a patient’s own cells, risk of rejection would plummet, perhaps disappear altogether.

Methuselah Foundation honors the efforts of Organovo through early funding and support as well as through its new, highly anticipated New Organ Mprize. The true prize is elevated health and quality of life for those that have had to or will suffer the blows of a failing organ. Every $10 helps us work in tandem with today’s stunningly advanced technology so that at some tomorrow, no one will have to suffer or die because of a diseased organ.


Gravitz, Lauren. “Printing Muscle Organovo’s 3-D Printer Creates Human Tissues That Could Help Speed Drug Discovery.” Technology Review. MIT Technology Review. Web. 21 Feb. 2012.

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