3D bioprinting produces kidney tissue

A 3D bioprinting technique that fabricates kidney tissue could transform treatment of renal disease, claims a multidisciplinary team of researchers led by Harvard University’s Wyss Institute for Biologically Inspired Engineering. 

kidney tissue
Vascularised kidney organoid (Image: Wyss Institute at Harvard University)

The multi-year project, which included members of Harvard’s John A Paulson School of Engineering & Applied Sciences (SEAS) alongside Brigham and Women’s Hospital, has culminated in the group’s suite of stem cell and bioprinting technology being licensed to San Diego-based start-up Trestle Biotherapeutics, which is seeking to commercialise it in new treatments for kidney disease and organ replacement.

According to the researchers, over half a million people in the US alone are dependent on dialysis, with 100,000 waiting for kidney transplants. Despite the need, only 20,000 transplants are performed in the country each year, with nearly 5,000 patients dying annually while awaiting treatment.

The team added that beyond kidney failure, there are over 60 genetic diseases that directly or indirectly affect renal function, many of which cannot be appropriately treated with existing therapeutics.


“I’m pleased that Trestle has now launched to translate this robust technology to address the growing need for kidney tissues and organs,” said Wyss Core Faculty member Jennifer Lewis, whose lab was central to the technology’s development. “More than a dozen members of my lab contributed to the innovations in tissue engineering that have created this technology platform.

“Most recently, we developed a new biomanufacturing method, known as sacrificial writing in functional tissue (SWIFT), that enables the fabrication of vascularised kidney tissues.”

Lewis and her collaborators created 3D kidney-on-chip models for drug screening and disease modelling and established the core technology for rapidly producing functional, vascularised kidney tissue at scale for repair and regeneration.

A key milestone was a method for developing complex kidney organoids - mini organs that replicated the behaviour of kidneys – in collaboration with clinicians Joseph Bonventre (Brigham) and Ryuji Morizane (Massachusetts General Hospital and Wyss Institute).

“We’re very excited to bring the biofabrication and stem cell biology technologies developed in the Lewis and Morizane labs into what we are building at Trestle,” said Ben Shepherd, CEO at Trestle Biotherapeutics.

“The teams at Harvard, Wyss, and the Brigham have a renowned track record in translational innovation, and we’re thrilled with the opportunity to carry their work forward for patients’ benefit.”

The team's results are detailed in Nature Methods.