Start-up working on breakthrough in 3-D printing of human organs

Prellis Biologics says it is overcoming a major obstacle to success, and just raised $1.8 million in new seed funding.
By Bill Siwicki
02:09 PM
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3-D printing of human organs

Prellis Biologics, a human tissue engineering company, has invented a new way to create what it says are viable human organs using near instantaneous 3-D printing. This type of development, if proven out, could be a boon for hospitals and health systems with long lists of patients waiting for donor organs.

Founded by two scientists with extensive experience in 3-D tissue imaging and stem cell biology, Prellis Biologics says it is solving the greatest obstacle to producing functional human tissue in the lab – the ability to print microvasculature. Without the complex microvascular system needed to supply nutrients and oxygen to cells, an organ cannot survive.

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True Ventures, a Silicon Valley venture capital firm specializing in early-stage technology start-ups, just led a $1.8 million seed investment in Prellis Biologics. Civilization Ventures and 415 Ventures also joined, along with angel investors. This round follows early support by IndieBio, an accelerator for biotech startups run by SOSV. Investment in the 10-month-old company totals $1.92 million.

“Our vision is to create a company that uses technology to print any type of human organ, providing people with a long-lasting solution to a given medical issue,” said Melanie Matheu, co-founder and CEO of Prellis. “We believe our technology will jumpstart the practical use of lab-printed tissue for life-saving drug development, rapid development of human antibodies, and production of human organs for transplant.”

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Current methods for printing human tissue have hit a roadblock: The challenge of creating tiny blood vessels known as microvasculature. Without microvasculature, cells starve for oxygen and nutrients and can’t remove wastes. This has limited scientists to printing tissue no thicker than a dollar bill.

By building scaffolding that includes microvascular structures, Prellis is working on solving this problem. These thicker tissues are the building blocks of functional organs.

“Over 230 people die every day in the U.S. from liver and kidney disease,” said Noelle Mullin, co-founder and chief scientific officer at Prellis, citing 2016 National Center for Health Statistics research. “By coupling stem cell and immunology expertise with our 3-D printing technology, we’ll be able to produce organs and tissues with the precise vascular infrastructure necessary to make them viable.”

Prellis’ technology will be brought to market in phases, the company said. The first lab-grown tissues will be used to produce antibodies for therapeutics and address issues associated with pharmaceutical development and testing. Currently, drug companies must test new drugs using animal models that do not accurately predict toxicity or efficacy in humans, and human clinical trials can be both time-consuming and harmful to patients, the company said.

The first human tissue Prellis Biologics will print for clinical development are islets of langerhans, the functional unit of the pancreas that produces insulin.

“Type 1 diabetics lose insulin-producing islets of langerhans at a young age,” Matheu said. “If we can replace these, we can offer diabetes patients a life free of daily insulin shots and glucose monitoring.”

Because of the substantial unmet need for human tissue and organ replacement alternatives, as well as human tissue for drug discovery and toxicology testing, the global tissue engineering market was estimated at $23 billion in 2015 and is projected to reach $94 billion by 2024, according to “Tissue Engineering Market Analysis, Market Size, Application Analysis, Regional Outlook, Competitive Strategies and Forecasts, 2016 To 2024,” from Hexa Research.

Twitter: @SiwickiHealthIT
Email the writer: bill.siwicki@himssmedia.com

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