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Miniature Human Organs Are Being Made In A Lab At Cincinnati Children's

Ann Thompson
Inside a Cincinnati Children's Hospital lab, Dr. Takanori Takebe is growing miniature human organs. This is a piece of a liver.

Clinical trials are tentatively scheduled for 2020 at Cincinnati Children's Hospital Medical Center's new Center for Stem Cell and Organoid Medicine, where researchers are making miniature livers and pancreases, called organoids.

Associate Director Takanori Takebe, MD, calls organoids a "complex recipe" of proteins, small molecules, amino acids and nutrients that enable him and his staff in the U.S. and Japan to make the organs using pluripotent stem cells (iPSCs), or so-called "master cells."

Credit Ann Thompson / WVXU
Takanori Takebe, MD, is preparing for the mass manufacturing of tiny human organs, called organoids, at Cincinnati Children's, much like researchers are doing at his lab in Japan.

Takebe sees two roles for the manmade organs: drug testing and transplantation.

"It's pretty much like science fiction, but we are trying to create the miniature version of human organs in the culture dish," he says. "We can expose some drugs in a dish and see how it reacts in a patient's specific condition to tell how humans respond to drugs."

When it comes to transplantation, Takebe says doctors will have to "carefully select a very specific population" because the cost is high. Takebe says making and transplanting a liver or pancreas will cost $2 million.

Cincinnati Children's is seen as a leader in the development of liver and pancreatic organoids. The journal iScience reportedMay 31 Dr. Takebe used RFID chips to track the organoids, suggesting "it could be a useful way to organize and identify the large quantities of organoids that are often needed in experimental situations."

Eventually, manmade human organs could come down to a combination of biology and engineering. Researchers at the University of Illinois have created a 3D printer reportedly capable of producing complex shapes from sugar that could be used to grow biological tissues.

Ann Thompson has decades of journalism experience in the Greater Cincinnati market and brings a wealth of knowledge and expertise to her reporting.