5 Crazy Technologies Made Possible By 3-D Bioprinting

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Organovo (NASDAQ: ONVO  ) has made headlines this year for its revolutionary tissue engineering platform, more commonly referred to as 3-D bioprinting. The company can add a tremendous amount of value to the pharmaceutical industry in the drug discovery process in the next several years and is targeting longer-term revenue streams with its ability to grow cancer tissues and human organs for transplantation. However, focusing solely on these great advances sells short the broader impacts that industrial tissue engineering and 3-D bioprinting platforms can have on society. What are some less-publicized applications within reach of the disruptive technologies?

1. Pharmaceuticals, vaccines, and anti-toxins
While Organovo aims to reduce the number of unforeseen toxicity issues with drugs in phase 3 development -- and even those already on the market -- Johnson & Johnson (NYSE: JNJ  ) and Parabon Nanolabs are developing a platform for printing pharmaceutical compounds. The Essemblix Platform will strap active pharmaceutical payloads to specially designed DNA scaffolds, which then self-assemble into larger macromolecules. The technology can be tailored to accommodate multiple types of pharmaceuticals in one multifunctional macromolecule and allows precise control over each subcomponent.

The active pharmaceutical ingredients involved will still need to be created with traditional manufacturing, but precisely "printing" nano-pharmaceuticals represents a major step forward for medicine. It will also pave the way for more flexible bioprinting technologies. In the future, 3-D printers will download vaccines and medications from the Internet and then use standard chemical building blocks to print doses in your own home. There are quite a few quality control issues to work through, but J. Craig Venter, the private hand behind the Human Genome Project, is already dreaming up prototype technology.

2. Hair growth
(NYSE: PFE  ) had an instant blockbuster on its hands when it launched Viagra in 1998. It brought in more than $2 billion at its peak and enjoyed a wildly successful life by tackling one of the biggest problems associated with aging. While the patents for the drug expired in Europe several months ago, they remain intact in the United States through 2020 -- although half of its sales occur internationally.  

There are plenty of differences, but imagine the market opportunity that exists for a successful therapy that could regrow hair. It might sound like a promise from a late-night infomercial, but it, too, is a reality with 3-D bioprinting. Scientists at Columbia University have pioneered a technology that could one day delay or end baldness. It isn't yet ready for human testing, but the breakthrough was achieved by moving away from 2-D cell culture practices and into 3-D conditions. Sound familiar?  

3. Bones
Tissue engineering doesn't have to be confined to soft tissues. A professor of pharmacy at the University of Nottingham in England named Kevin Shakeshaff is developing the technology to print replacement bones from living cells. That would represent a major step forward from the titanium 3-D-printed jawbone transplanted into an 83-year-old woman in the Netherlands last summer -- although that's impressive in itself.

Shakeshaff's printer first builds a scaffold with similar characteristics of bone that is coated with bone cells. The scaffold dissolves in about three months as new bone growth takes its place and function. The technology is still some years away from being clinically practical or acceptable, but we may very well see 3-D printed living bone transplants within our lifetime.  

4. Animal products (food)
Using tissue engineering to create sustainable animal products such as meat may seem novel and futuristic, but Winston Churchill actually saw it coming. "Fifty years hence, we shall escape the absurdity of growing a whole chicken in order to eat the breast or wing, by growing these parts separately under a suitable medium," he wrote way back in 1931. His timing may have been off, but Modern Meadow is proving he was at least right in principle.

The company, founded by Andras Forgacs and his father Gabor Forgacs, who also co-founded Organovo, has developed the technology needed to grow meat without the need to slaughter animals. While the global meat industry represents an enormous multibillion-dollar market opportunity, the crazy thing is that similar technology could produce every animal product consumed by humans today. That includes gelatin and isinglass for food consistency, fats for food additives, honey, honeydew, and more.

5. Animal products (non-foodstuff)
Why stop at the animal products that can be shoved into our mouths? Leather, scales, animal fats, hairs, and more are also capable of being sustainably produced with tissue engineering technologies. In fact, leather is the first commercial target of Modern Meadow and Andras Forgacs, who gave an amazing TED talk explaining the needs and benefits of sustainable leather. If you doubt the feasibility of the technology consider watching the video below in which Forgacs displays actual leather products created with his platform.

Modern Meadow will one day master the commercial production of ultra-sustainable meat, but given our connection with food it will be a much more difficult product to replace with science -- no matter how beneficial. Therefore, it makes good business sense to focus on non-consumable animal products such as leather in the near term.

Foolish bottom line
Remember, these five technologies are still years away from making a major impact. Organovo is highly focused on pharmaceutical applications for the immediate and medium term, which represent an enormous opportunity of their own, but even they are years away. What innovative tissue engineering companies will emerge for investors to own in the next several years? No one knows for sure, but the list above should get you thinking.

3-D bioprinting isn't the only disruptive manufacturing platform
The Economist
compares this disruptive invention to the steam engine and the printing press. Business Insider says it's "the next trillion-dollar industry." And everyone from BMW to Nike to the U.S. Air Force is already using it every day. Watch The Motley Fool's shocking video presentation today to discover the garage gadget that's putting an end to the "Made in China" era and learn the investing strategy we've used to double our money on these 3 stocks. Click here to watch now!

Read/Post Comments (6) | Recommend This Article (54)

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Help us keep this a respectfully Foolish area! This is a place for our readers to discuss, debate, and learn more about the Foolish investing topic you read about above. Help us keep it clean and safe. If you believe a comment is abusive or otherwise violates our Fool's Rules, please report it via the Report this Comment Report this Comment icon found on every comment.

  • Report this Comment On November 14, 2013, at 12:04 AM, goldguru wrote:

    Organovo is interesting but looking very frothy. 3D scanning stocks should do well too and are not getting the attention that 3D printing stocks are getting. Laser scanners create files that can be used to 3D print objects. Simply copy any object you like. Crazy technology, fascinating times.

  • Report this Comment On November 14, 2013, at 7:21 AM, OldChapi wrote:

    3D-printing is a remarkable, fascinating technology. The developers better quickly find something to print for which there is a NEED, or 3d-printing will become a dead goose, floating. Leave the fiction and the fictitious for the fictionae and get real. This far I could see only replicas printed out of something that already exists.

    Why would someone like to print food? The people who could afford it, wouldn't even buy GM-foods. The nearest they will ever get at printing food, is to print a block of margarine - then, is there a need for printed margarine?

  • Report this Comment On November 14, 2013, at 11:24 AM, SkepikI wrote:

    Maxx: A fascinating article that has the right big picture strategic vision, even if the particular players are not the ultimate winners. I have stayed away from the hyped 3D printing players as I do not see them adopting the 100 bagger strategy. Maybe they are and I am just being ignorant, but there you have it.

    The real power of 3D printing is not creating commodity stuff cheaper. It is creating totally new things that could not be created otherwise. Designer pharma with one or two molecule coatings, layered tiny struts with outrageous strength to weight ratios. Well, you get the picture.

    I just don't see anyone on this track till now. Organovo looks interesting but scary early rocketship with certain suspicious behaviors. Anyone else to look at for excellent strategy?

  • Report this Comment On November 14, 2013, at 11:26 AM, SkepikI wrote:

    Of course, JNJ which I already own in several ways looks like strategic genius....

  • Report this Comment On November 14, 2013, at 4:15 PM, judysway wrote:

    Thank you Maxx, a fine article! I believe in Organovo and have invested quite a bit, however, I invested not only because I believe this company will reach hundreds of dollars a share. I invested because my son and thousands of others need organs and I believe God will answer those prayers. There is a brand new future coming and Organovo and Modern Meadow will lead the way. One to solve the problems of damaged body parts, the other to solve the worlds hunger. I have spoken with Andras via email to inquire about investing also in Modern Meadow, however due to rules, they only allow mega investors to aid in start ups. He is a very impressive young man. Yesterday 10 million shares traded in Organovo and today 14 million shares traded...I am not the only one who sees the outstanding future of this company. Wonder what people thought of Thomas Edison when he first started. ??? Those who saw ahead profited, those who laughed did not.

  • Report this Comment On November 14, 2013, at 5:05 PM, judysway wrote:

    Sorry, I spoke too soon, make that 15,940,122 shares traded today for ONVO, closing at 11.90. You forgot to mention all of Organovo's base line patents for bio printing, upon which all other patents will be based. I "see" a bio printer in every hospital emergency room, one's own bio printed skin for burns, wounds...the uses will be endless and a bio printer will be a necessary addition to all healing centers. What would this bio printer be worth to any of us, God forbid, if we or a love one need one to save our life.

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