End-stage renal disease, or kidney failure, affects over 500,000 patients in the United States. A transplant is the only definitive treatment, yet most patients spend years on the waitlist with little hope of receiving a donor kidney in time. IVIVA Medical could revolutionize this longstanding issue by creating an artificial kidney — a device manufactured in a laboratory that functions as an organ and is immunologically matched to any patient.
IVIVA was founded as the result of work coming out of Dr. Harald Ott’s lab at MGH. There, the team of researchers has developed a process called decellularization, by which an organ is stripped of all living cells, leaving only a matrix of collagen and other structural proteins behind. This creates a scaffold that can then be filled with modified stem cells to create a new organ that won’t be rejected its host patient.
Building upon this work, IVIVA’s VP of Engineering Charles Klassen developed a way to manufacture an organ scaffold out of an artificial membrane instead of a decellularized one — specifically, for the complex architecture of the kidney. The company is working on a thin-film bio-membrane with channels printed in such a way that different cells types can communicate without touching each other. In the case of the kidney, this would ideally allow for the creation of a construct with a blood supply on one side and drainage on the other.
“Our goal is to have a prototype that we can put in an animal model within two years,” says CEO Brock Reeve. “After the first animal study, we would scale up the engineering and cellular development… hopefully, we’ll be able to give someone a renal filtration device that would not require immune suppression.”
The artificial membrane, if it works, will not only provide specific organ solutions, but advance technology to the next generation of engineered tissues for a variety of purposes and industries.
“The challenge for us, and the challenge for other biotech companies if they have a platform technology, is how to build out the platform as well as apply it to a focused area to show that it’s functioning and working,” Reeve says.
If IVIVA succeeds in its mission, personalized grafts engineered on demand would resolve donor organ shortage, reduce mortality, and improve quality of life for patients. Though a marketable product may be a while in the future, the idea of building internal organs from scratch is certainly no longer limited to science fiction.