Next-Generation Liver Research Advances Organ and Tissue Engineering

(l to r): Ken Dorko, Associate Director of Lab Operations at Samsara Sciences; Sharon Presnell, President of Samsara Sciences and Chief Scientific Officer of Organovo; and Gina Dunne Smith, Executive Director of IIAM

Not long ago, the prospect of creating artificial organs bordered on science fiction. Due to the efforts of bioengineering research companies like Samsara Sciences and Organovo, that fantasy is coming closer to reality.

Samsara develops high-quality primary human liver cells for research applications. Organovo designs and creates functional human tissues for research and therapeutic applications using proprietary three-dimensional bioprinting technology.

Based in San Diego, CA, the two “sister” companies are collaborating on two projects: (1) generating 3D human liver tissues that can be used to develop and test new drugs, study liver diseases and test methods of implanting such tissues into patients with liver diseases; and (2) developing an accurate 3D bioprinted kidney model to be used for pharmacology/toxicology, drug metabolism, drug screening and kidney disease studies.

IIAM provides hepatic and renal tissue to Samsara, which then provides the cells and tissue reagents to Organovo to enable the work. “A key aspect of generating 3D human tissues is reconstructing native tissue architecture, which means utilizing most or all of the cell types that are normally present in a tissue,” said Sharon Presnell, PhD, President of Samsara and Chief Scientific Officer of Organovo.

“Most providers of liver cells focus on the hepatocytes, the metabolic workhorse cells of the liver, but the functionality of that very important cell type is heavily influenced by and dependent on the presence and support of several other cell types (stellate cells, endothelial cells, macrophages, etc.),” she said. “For bioprinting or other next-generation tissue-engineering efforts, it’s important to incorporate all cell types. Our techniques enable each cell type to be isolated and characterized separately and then recombined to create a full suite of valuable cellular reagents.”

Samsara recently provided Organovo with a matched set of cellular reagents that were all isolated from the same liver donor. “While donor-matched cells may not be required for in vitro applications, it may prove exceptionally important to be able to build tissues for use in regenerative medicine using cells originating from a single donor,” said Presnell. “Because of our close geographic proximity and our mutual commitment to generating and using the full suite of cell types from each organ system, Samsara is uniquely able to partner with Organovo and guide our product development toward their needs.”

Later this fall, Samsara plans to release renal proximal tubular epithelial cells as the company begins to expand its portfolio of human kidney cellular products.

Eric David, MD, JD, Chief Strategy Officer and Executive Vice President of Preclinical Development at Organovo, explained his organization’s role in the process. “We use the liver cells we obtain through Samsara to make small pieces of liver tissue, which we are designing and implanting into animals with the goal of getting into clinical trials for human implantation in the coming years. While Organovo cannot yet make full livers, we believe we can make enough functional liver tissue to be curative in certain pediatric liver diseases. And for other adult liver diseases, we believe we can make enough tissue to bridge patients a few more years before they need a transplant.”

Presnell explained how collaborating with IIAM advances Samsara’s and Organovo’s initiatives. “Our goal is to provide customers with a full suite of options to support their research efforts — not only multiple, well-characterized cell types from each organ, but also cells isolated from a broad spectrum of both healthy and diseased donors. The IIAM team does a great job of taking time to understand the needs of the researchers they support and to provide tissues that serve those needs. Very good listeners and strong communicators, they are willing to partner in servicing a wide range of challenging research goals.”

Although Samsara and Organovo are involved in technology-driven research, both principals emphasize the human aspect of their work and the benefits that work is creating. “The demand for liver transplants far outpaces the donor supply, and I’ve seen that dire need first hand,” said Dr. David. “Our company has the tools and processes that have the potential to alleviate the situation and a passionate team that’s dedicated to making it happen.”

Presnell said, “The primary goal for any tissue should be to save a life on that day — but when that is not possible, I believe donor families appreciate that one donated tissue may go on to make tens or hundreds of regenerative medicine products that could save many lives… or lead to new cures for life-threatening diseases.”

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