United Therapeutics creates 3D printed lung scaffold

June 8, 2022 - 3 minutes

United Therapeutics Corporation said it has – in partnership with 3D Systems Corporation – produced the world’s most complex 3D-printed object, a human lung scaffold.

The human lung scaffold was demonstrated at the LIFE ITSELF Conference, held recently in San Diego, Cal.

Martine Rothblatt, United Therapeutics’ chairperson and CEO, and Chuck Hull, 3D Systems’ co-founder, executive vice president, and chief technology officer for regenerative medicine, explained to conference attendees that these 3D-printable lung scaffold designs consisted of a record 44 trillion voxels (similar to a 3D pixel) that lay out 4,000 kilometers of pulmonary capillaries and 200 million alveoli. 

Scientists at the US-headquartered United Therapeutics plan to cellularize the 3D-printed scaffolds with a patient’s own stem cells to create tolerable, transplantable human lungs that should not require immunosuppression to prevent rejection.

“Last week, it was exciting to show the public our 3D-printed human lung scaffold, but we’re thrilled to share that our 3D-printed lung scaffolds are now demonstrating gas exchange in animal models. We are regularly printing lung scaffolds as accurately as driving across the United States and not deviating from a course by more than the width of a human hair,” Rothblatt said. 

She added the goal is to have personalized, manufactured lungs cleared for human trials in less than five years.

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Rothblatt added, “Our goal is to create an unlimited supply of transplantable lungs in the future. Even today, we are using a process called ex-vivo lung perfusion to add to the supply of transplantable lungs by extending by several hours the period of assessment and viability for human donor lungs, resulting in over 230 lives extended to date.”

Lung transplants

According to the U.S. Health Resources and Services Administration, 2,524 patients in the U.S. received a lung transplant in 2021 and there are 1,075 patients on the U.S. lung transplant waiting list as of June 3, 2022. More than 150,000 Americans die from lung disease each year.

Hull said: “The reveal at LIFE ITSELF represents the culmination of our efforts with United Therapeutics that includes not only 3D-printed lungs, but two additional organs under development, kidneys and livers. These lung designs can be printed in as little as three weeks using our latest advanced photopolymer-based bioprinting technology we call Print to Perfusion.”

United Therapeutics

United Therapeutics is the first publicly traded biotech or pharmaceutical company to take the form of a public benefit corporation. 

Its mission is to find a cure for pulmonary arterial hypertension and other life-threatening diseases. The company has received U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) approval for five medicines to date.

Last month, the FDA approved the company’s Tyvaso DPI (treprostinil) inhalation powder. This is used treating pulmonary arterial hypertension and pulmonary hypertension associated with interstitial lung disease to improve exercise ability. Tyvaso DPI is the only dry powder inhaler approved by the FDA for use in these conditions.

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The use of 3D printing isn’t new, although bioprinting is a growing category.  According to Mordor Intelligence, the global 3D bioprinting market was valued at $724.2M in 2020, but is expected to reach $2.4B by 2026.

Cover image: Shutterstock

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