Synthetic biology is a new scientific revolution that enables us to shape nature and life itself to our very needs. Such exciting developments constantly occur world-wide and change the way humanity perceives medicine and the rules of ethics.
From lab-grown embryos, 3D organ printing, genetic medicine and many more – innovation is out there, in every laboratory, university and country.
In order to keep track and stay up-to-date, scientists must be constantly informed and tuned regarding the most current breakthroughs around the world.
Here at Synthethics, we aim to bring our readers and community the most relevant information and developments of synthetic biology and advanced medicine, and discuss the ethical challenges which such innovation brings to the scientific community and to mankind itself.
We start with several examples, this time from two countries in two different continents – Israel (Asia) and Switzerland (Europe). Stay tuned to hear about more exciting innovation from across the globes in the upcoming articles!
By Dana Venkert and Luisa Stöckli
First stop: Israel
Israel might be a small country, but it has always been known for its innovation. While mostly recognised for start-ups and high-tech developments, Israel also has a very advanced Bio-Tech industry that in the recent years included some remarkably innovative companies.
One of the most promising companies was established in Tel Aviv university only a year and a half ago – but it already holds a great promise of groundbreaking tissue-engineering technology that could potentially save lives and eliminate the need for organ transplants.
This is Matricelf (1) - a new biotechnology company that started with an amazing development from Prof. Tal Dvir’s research group (2).
In 2017, Dvir’s laboratory were able to make paralyzed mice walk again by transplanting a new, man-made 3D printed spinal cord. In 2019, Prof. Dvir was the first scientist ever to print a beating and functional miniature 3D human heart (3).
How does that work?
In Matricelf – a piece of fat tissue sample is taken, and the cells are separated from the Extra-cellular matrix (ECM). From the ECM, a patient-specific hydrogel is made, and the tissue cells and genetically engineered into stem cells – out of which any cell type in the body can be formed. The newly made stem cells are grown in the specially made hydrogel – and designed to develop to the required tissues, like muscle, nerve, or bone.
For complex 3D organs, a special 3D printer (1.5X1X1 meters) prints the cells with the hydrogel, aligning them in the appropriate formation in order to create the organ.
Current and future developments
The process involves an advanced combination of tissue-engineering, genetic engineering, and biomaterials. The newly founded company is now only composed of 8 scientists but has already signed a contract with the leading pharma company Bayer. Nowadays, the company is performing clinical trials to receive the FDA’s approval.
The final goal is to solve the organ donor shortage and enable “self-donations” of recreated organs from the patients own tissues, without the concern of “host vs. donor” syndrome. Furthermore, the new technology enables to “donate” tissues and organs that could never have been restored before – such as the spinal cord.
By Dana Venkert