POSTECH Opens a New Era of Artificial Organs that Can be Freely Assembled

2022-05-10 27

[A research team led by Professor Wan Kyun Chung is selected for the Alchemist Project to develop industrial technology]

A POSTECH research team led by Professor Wan Kyun Chung has been selected for the “Soft Implant without Immunorejection,” one of the themes in the 2020 Alchemist Project organized by the Ministry of Trade, Industry and Energy in Korea. The team will develop personalized artificial organs based on the bioprinting technology and a robot system that can automate this process.

The Alchemist Project was named after the alchemists who tried to turn metal into gold. It will support the development of the most difficult technologies for the problems for which there is currently no solution, accompanying a high risk of failure.

Under the leadership of Professor Wan Kyun Chung, professors Jinah Jang, Dong-Woo Cho, Dong Sung Kim, Seungchul Lee and Keehoon Kim (Department of Mechanical Engineering), who specialize in different areas, including artificial intelligence, robotics, and artificial organs, will participate in this project. The team plans to develop technologies for modular manufacturing, assembly and culture, as well as cells and biomaterials needed for fabricating artificial organs, including the liver and the pancreas, with 3D bio-printing technology.

In particular, the team plans to develop 3D bioprinting technology to make large-volume, vascularized liver and pancreas modules, including thin capillary vessels. Furthermore, the researchers will improve the efficiency of making artificial organs by developing a robot system that can automatically assemble and connect liver or pancreas modules with thick blood vessels to make implantable artificial organs. For the cells to make these artificial organs, the team will use pluripotent stem cells with reduced immunorejection by introducing CRISPR technology. The cells will be divided into liver cells, vascular cells, and pancreatic ductal cells before being printed into organs.

POSTECH has already achieved excellent results in manufacturing artificial organs with 3D bioprinting, attracting attention from both academia and industries. Earlier, the university succeeded in producing artificial blood vessels, such as blood vessel tissues, for the human body. Replicating diseases ex-vivo using these blood vessels has opened up the possibility of using the technology for customized treatments.

In the meantime, POSTECH has also attracted a project in 2022 to construct a manufacturing facility for artificial organs with bioprinting. As such, Pohang, where the school is located, is expected to grow into a hub for bioprinting-based artificial organs. This Alchemist Project will provide 20 billion KRW (USD 16 million) in total over five years beginning in 2022.

The universities participating in this project include Asan Medical Center, Seoul St. Mary’s Hospital, Hanyang University Medical Center, Korea University, Seoul National University of Science and Technology, University Industry Foundation of Yonsei University, and Ulsan National Institute of Science and Technology (UNIST). Korean companies including ToolGen, Inc., T&R Biofab Co. Ltd,, Celloid, Next&Bio Inc., Neuromeka Co. Ltd., cellArtgen Inc., EDmicBio Inc., and GenNBio, will also collaborate on the project.