IU organ researcher lands $9M grant to study animal transplants

An organ-transplant researcher at the Indiana University School of Medicine has landed a $9 million grant from a Maryland biotech company to study the use of animal organs in humans.

Dr. Burcin Ekser won the four-year grant from Lung Biotechnology PBC, a subsidiary of United Therapeutics Corp., to further his work, the medical school announced Thursday.

Ekser and his team on the IUPUI campus are working to print three-dimensional pig liver tissue from genetically engineered pig liver cells. They use the printed tissue to develop new research models for transplanting animal organs into humans.

Organ researchers say that transplanting animal organs into humans could one day stem the shortage of organs for people needing a transplant. Each day, about 20 people in the United States die while waiting for transplant, due to a shortage of available organs.

“This alliance with Lung Biotechnology will greatly enhance our ability to accomplish our ultimate goal of providing an unlimited supply of organs to save human lives,” Ekser said in written remarks. “It’s my passion because I’m a transplant surgeon. I don’t want anyone to die while they’re waiting for a transplantable organ.”

The grant will allow the medical school to form a collaboration with Lung Biotechnology, based in a Silver Spring, Maryland, to study engineered organs.

The parent company, United Therapeutics, has been studying organ technology since 2011, including research and development of alternative tissues source, such as animal organs.

“With advances in technology, we believe that creating an unlimited supply of tolerable manufactured organs is now principally an engineering challenge, and we are dedicated to finding engineering solutions,” the company said in a recent securities filing.

United Therapeutics set up Lung Biotechnology PBS in 2015 to address the acute national shortage of transplantable lungs and other organs.

The IU School of Medicine is home to a 3D bio-printer that can print genetically engineered pig cells that allow many different combinations of genetics to be tested quickly and efficiently, improving the probability of developing an organ that patients will not reject.

The team also plans to create a library of pig genes to share with other scientists.

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