The team at Miromatrix is on a mission to eliminate the organ transplant waiting list by bioengineering transplantable human livers and kidneys. The simplified version of their remarkable process involves removing the animal cells from a pig organ and then replacing them with human cells. Once the original cells are flushed out, the tissue structure remains and new, compatible human cells can take their place. The bioengineered organs are then cultured in a bioreactor for 2-4 weeks, at which point the organs are ready to test or implant.

Miromatrix’ process is an efficient way to address the unmet need of thousands of patients across the country who need a transplant. The company is currently working to advance their bioengineered organs to clinical trials.

To learn more about this process, and the interns helping to develop it, the SciTech team visited Miromatrix’s Eden Prairie facility and were accompanied by State Senator Eric Pratt and Representative Carlie Kotyza-Witthuhn.

From developing cells to automating reactors
This was Miromatrix’s first year hiring interns through SciTech, a state-funded program that connects small businesses with college STEM majors.

“When it comes to hiring interns, we’re looking for that next generation of leadership,” said John Barry, Miromatrix’s VP of Research and Development.

“It’s really great for us, just having one portal where we can get so many wonderful applicants. It’s a nice way to connect with local students,” agreed Emily Beck, Senior Manager of Kidney R&D.

This past summer, they connected with and hired Aubrey Chavarria, Kathryn Jans and Christian Labrador. Chavarria, a biochemistry and health science major at Hamline University, came across the opportunity on SciTech and was intrigued by the regenerative process. With her father on a waitlist for a kidney transplant, she felt particularly close to the cause.

As an R&D intern, Chavarria worked with the analytical team, testing cell functions, going over data and sometimes working in the lab gathering samples.

Jans is studying biomedical engineering at the University of Minnesota and put her skills to use working with the cell development team. Using stains and markers, she studied and characterized different cell types, taking and developing the photos herself using the company’s fluorescent microscope in the dark room.

Labrador is an engineering major at Brown University and was hired as a mechanical engineering intern working on Miromatrix’s bioreactor upgrades. His goal was to assist in the automation of the overall manufacturing process.

The benefits of real-world exposure
Needless to say, interning at Miromatrix provided a meaningful experience for all, though they each walked away with their unique takeaways to share.

“Working at a startup is really valuable. It’s given us an opportunity to learn while also helping the company grow,” Labrador said.

“With Covid, a lot of my in-class lab experience got taken away,” Chavarria added. “Here, my mentors sat down with me and helped me go over everything to make sure I knew how to do things. It made me feel more comfortable.”

“I’ve told so many people on campus about SciTech. It’s a really helpful program for getting college students in the actual STEM workforce,” said Jans. “You don’t know what job you want to get into until you’ve had experience in that field. Getting this experience sophomore year and being able to say, ‘this is the specialty I want to do,’ is really important.”