Despite the advancement of surgical techniques and anti-rejection immunosuppressant drugs, the field of organ transplantation continues to be challenged by simple supply. If the laboratory of Brigham and Women’s Hospital Associate Bioengineer Yu Shrike Zhang, PhD, has anything to do with it, that low-tech problem will someday be solved with high-tech printing technology.

Zhang’s lab is at the leading edge of innovation in two key areas: 3D bioprinting and organs-on-chips. The former involves the use of bioink, a special jello-like material containing human cells, to output an organ one layer at a time. As a postdoctoral researcher, Zhang helped engineer a system that can create tissue structures with much greater complexity and speed than ever before. These bioprinters are also being applied to develop human tissues for organs-on-chips—tiny devices that mimic the physiology of organs for the testing of new drugs. 

Both innovations, Zhang says, could one day solve difficult problems in medicine. “Nearly any organ structure can now be bioprinted, with varying degrees of functionality,” he notes. “This could help relieve the shortage of organs needed by hundreds of thousands of people waiting for transplants. And organs-on-chips could lead to personalized screenings for drug response.”

Zhang and colleagues are now taking their research to the next level—they recently built an organs-on-chips system modeling the heart/liver connections—and working to overcome the constant monitoring these devices require. The payoff could be huge: In addition to boosting the availability of organs for transplant, the devices could drastically reduce the 10 years and billions of dollars spent to bring the average drug to patients.

Read more in the Brigham Health Summer 2018 magazine.

Photo credit: Brigham Health.

Topics: Technology, Innovation, Academic Medical Centers

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