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"We want to approach this practically," he says. "You might have the most beautiful tissue chemistry, but if it ruptures, it's no good. We want to build something a surgeon can use."

A competing method of building blood vessels is being used by Cytograft Tissue Engineering, a company in Novato, Calif., that has its vessels in clinical trials. In a Petri dish, they grow sheets of fibroblasts, the cells that form a vessel's outer layer. Then the sheets are rolled around a Teflon tube to shape them into cylinders. Endothelial cells are pumped into the newly created vessels. "The idea is ingenious," Forgacs says.

Recently, Forgacs and his colleagues made a further advance in fabricating blood vessels: printing vessels that branch out from each other as actual blood vessels do. "Nothing prevents us from branching," he says. "There's no method, other than ours at present, than can produce a branched tube."


Being able to create systems of branching blood vessels is a critical step towards the goal of fabricating new organs. It's not enough to grow tissues with the shape and function of organs; to survive, new organs must have the vasculature necessary to stay nourished with blood. "This is a serious issue [that] tissue engineering faces," Forgacs says. "It is our most challenging task. What I want to do before I die is to vascularize tissue."

The first use Forgacs sees for vascularized organ tissues is as a means for testing the toxicity of new drugs. Right now, safety testing is done with animals, but their physiology is an imperfect match with that of humans. Problems with some drugs, such as the heart attacks and strokes associated with the popular pain reliever Vioxx, may not be discovered until they've been on the market for years.

Forgacs sees the possibility of creating another step in the drug testing process. After trying a new drug in animals, the drug can be applied to living human tissues in the laboratory -- liver, kidney or, most likely, heart tissue. He is now working with a start-up company, Organovo, Inc. that would market these types of engineered organ tissue to pharmaceutical companies.

The biological questions confronting Forgacs today are very different from those that interested him after he received his doctorate in 1978 from Eotvos Lorand University in Budapest and the Landau Institute in Moscow.

"I was a brutally theoretical physicist. Nothing else much interested me than the calculations," he says. "Then you realize there are two-and-a-half people in the world who understand what you're doing, and they may not be interested."

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