Science fiction comes alive as Indian startup grows human liver in lab

Updated - December 23, 2015 03:12 pm IST

Published - December 23, 2015 03:02 pm IST - BENGALURU

Liver team at Pandorum Technologies: Dr. Abdullah Chand, senior scientist (left);  Arun Chandru, co-founder and managing director (centre); and Dr. Sivarajan T., senior scientist

Liver team at Pandorum Technologies: Dr. Abdullah Chand, senior scientist (left); Arun Chandru, co-founder and managing director (centre); and Dr. Sivarajan T., senior scientist

Pandorum Technologies, a Bengaluru-based biotech startup, has developed an artificial tissue that performs the functions of the human liver.

Pandorum said these 3D printed living tissues made of human cells would enable affordable medical research with reduced dependence on animal and human trials. It will also eventually lead to full scale transplantable organs.

Arun Chandru, 30-year-old co-founder of Pandorum, said liver toxicity and drug metabolism are the key hurdles, and contributors to failed human trials.

Pandorum’s 3D bio-printed mini-livers that mimic the human liver will serve as test platforms for discovery and development of drugs and vaccines. The firm said these drugs would have better efficacy, less side-effects and be developed at lower costs.

“We developed everything here in India,” said Mr. Chandru. “We can grow thousands of these tissues in the laboratory and test the efficacy of drugs on them for diseases including cancer.”

He said large pharma companies on an average spend about $10 billion (Rs. 66,290 crore) and 10 years on research and development to get a single new drug to the market.

Tuhin Bhowmick (34), another co-founder of Pandorum, said development of artificial organs has numerous clinical uses. The cell-based miniature organs can be used to develop bio-artificial liver support systems for preserving life in patients who have developed liver failure.

“In the near future, such bio-printed organs will address the acute shortage of human organs available for surgical transplantation,” said Dr. Bhowmick, who holds a Ph.D. from the Indian Institute of Science.

Pandorum was founded by a group of friends in 2011 who were pursuing their higher studies at IISc. They came together to work on the development of artificial human organs after winning a business competition.

Surviving initially on money from friends and family, the team approached the Department of Biotechnology with their vision. The company was awarded funding support by the Biotechnology Industry Research Assistance Council in 2012. The same year, the company got incubated by the Centre for Cellular and Molecular Platforms in Bengaluru.

Mr. Chandru said they created the innovation with a funding of about Rs. 1 crore, more than half of which came from the government.

Scientists and startups across the globe are growing artificial organs made of human cells to better study diseases and help test drugs. A team of researchers led by Hebrew University professor Eduardo Mitrani is growing pancreas in a petri dish to better regulate blood sugar in diabetic patients.

The global artificial organ and bionics market is expected to reach $38.75 billion (Rs 2.5 lakh crore) by 2020 at an estimated CAGR of 9.3% from 2014 to 2020, according to a study by Grand View Research.

Pandorum’s ultimate aim is to make personalised human organs such as lungs, liver, kidney and pancreas on demand, according to Mr. Chandru.

Pandorum’s innovation takes the area of making artificial organs to the next level. Bengaluru-based bioinformatics firm Strand Life Sciences founded by IISc. professors had earlier developed a virtual liver that mimics the functions of liver through software simulation. It is a predictive method that integrates data and insights for deeper understanding of the impact of a drug on the liver. The platform can predict the toxicity of several known drugs and toxins and explain the mechanism.

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