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German pharmaceutical giant to test new drugs on Israeli-developed 3-D printed heart tissue

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In the near future, Tel Aviv University Professor Tal Dvir hopes to offer Bayer pre-clinical trials on complete printed organs, adding that this is just the beginning of the partnership between his lab and the pharmaceutical giant. 

By ILANIT CHERNICK

Ramot, Tel Aviv University’s Technology Transfer company, has signed a collaboration agreement with German pharmaceutical giant Bayer to test out new drugs using human heart tissue 3D-printed in Prof. Tal Dvir’s Laboratory for Tissue Engineering and Regenerative Medicine.

Aside from carrying out the drug tests, Bayer and TAU are also planning to test new medication for toxicity and efficacy using printed whole human hearts in the coming years.

Last April, Prof. Dvir’s lab achieved an incredible medical feat by successfully creating the first-ever 3D-printed heart with vessels and human tissue. 

“The researchers estimate that it will be possible to print personalized organs and tissues within 10-15 years, thus eliminating the need for organ donations and the risk of transplant rejection,” TAU said in a statement. “Meanwhile, this innovative technology already has the potential to revolutionize a different medical field: drug screening.”

According to the university, drug candidates go through several phases of screening before reaching pharmacies. 

“First, the new chemical compound is tested on human tissue cultures. Then, it is administered to lab animals,” Dvir said. “Finally, the drug is approved for human clinical trials.” 

He stressed that his 3D-printed tissues could enable “faster, cheaper and more efficient screening than Petri dishes, adding that in a Petri dish, all the cells line up in 2D, and it’s only one type of cell.

“In contrast, our engineered tissues are 3D-printed, and therefore better resemble real heart tissues,” he continued. “Our printed tissues contain cardiac muscle, blood vessels and the extracellular matrix which connects the different cells biochemically, mechanically and electrically.” 

Prof. Tal Dvir in his Laboratory for Tissue Engineering and Regenerative Medicine. (Pictures: Tel Aviv University)

Dvir pointed out that moving away from petri dishes to 3D printed tissues “could significantly improve drug tests, saving precious time and money with the hope of producing safer and more effective medication.

“Our technology will save expensive and costly trials in order to develop more effective and safe drugs for humans,” he said.

In the near future, Dvir said that he hopes to offer Bayer pre-clinical trials on complete printed organs, adding that this is just the beginning of the partnership between his lab and the pharmaceutical giant. 

“Our end goal is to engineer whole human hearts, which will be printed with all the different tissues, rooms, elevations, blood vessels, with 3D printers allowing us to reconstruct the complex architecture of the human heart,” Dvir stressed. “Then will test the effects of new drugs on the transgenic heart.”

Based on the same technology developed in Dvir’s lab, a spin-off company called Matricelf was founded last year with the focus on developing human tissue and materials suitable for a patient’s own medical purposes.

The company’s first goal is to produce human spinal cord implants to treat paralyzed patients.

Matricelf has recently secured a large investment, allowing it to reach clinical settings in the near future.

Commenting on the agreement, Ramot CEO Keren Primor Cohen said that Dvir’s “groundbreaking innovation is very promising. 

“We believe that this collaboration with Bayer will support the evaluation and development of new drugs and is a step in building long-term relations with Bayer that we hope will benefit both partners and ultimately patients.”

For Bayer’s head of Transnational Sciences Eckhard von Keutz,the collaboration is exciting. 

“We will address a new area of early assessment of safety and tolerability of drug candidates,” he said, highlighting that the new project will enable Bayer to expand its open innovation activities to Israel.

“This provides a dynamic ecosystem for innovation in biotech and medical research,” he concluded.

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