Some day in the future, when you need a kidney transplant, you may get a 3D-printed organ created just for you. If scientists are able to achieve that milestone, they may look back fondly at a breakthrough printing process pioneered by researchers at Heriot-Watt University in Scotland in collaboration with Roslin Cellab, a stem cell technology company.
The printer creates 3D spheroids using delicate embryonic cell cultures floating in a "bio ink" medium. They end up looking like little bubbles. Each droplet can contain as few as five stem cells. Basically, this comes down to the printer "ink" being stem cells rather than plastic or another material.
Dr. Will Shu is part of the research team working on the project. "In the longer term, we envisage the technology being further developed to create viable 3D organs for medical implantation from a patient's own cells, eliminating the need for organ donation, immune suppression, and the problem of transplant rejection," Shu said in a release from Heriot-Watt.
Perhaps most importantly, the stem cells survived the printing process and remained viable. Shu says this is the first time human embryonic stem cells have been 3D printed. Printing out organs may be far down the line, but it's just one potential application. The method could also be used to print out human tissue for drug testing.
The research results have just been published in Biofabrication under the title "Development of a valve-based cell printer for the formation of human embryonic stem cell spheroid aggregates."