3D Printing of Stem Cells in Early Testing Now

First Posted: Mar 26, 2013 10:04 PM EDT

Scientists developed an 3D printing system that can place living human embryonic stem cells, which was first proven to work last month, and are now conducting first tests with the system.

The system was developed by a team of researchers from Heriot-Watt University, Scotland, led by Dr. Will Wenmiao Shu. A liquid with human stem cells can be three-dimensionally placed by an ink-jet like device which will allow the production of various forms of human tissue.

The innovative machine was built by bioengineer Alan Faulkner-Jones, using parts from an old 3D printer and works by placing whole cells onto a surface via a valve-based procedure. The scientists deposited droplets of the cell ink and after testing, found that 90 percent of them were alive and viable for replication.

"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," explained Shu last month. Until now the system is "accurate enough to produce 3D micro-tissue."

The team of scientists aims to create a human liver by 2015 and then go on to produce other individual organs shortly after using their stem cell printer.

Dr Shu's team are working with Roslin Cellab, a leading stem cell technology company. The company has a good track record of applying new technologies to human stem cell systems and will take the lead in developing 3D stem cell printing for commercial uses. Initially this will be in the areas of novel drug-testing products but in the longer term there is the goal of growing purpose-built replacement organs.

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