In two previous blogs, I talked about the growing impact of 3D printing and a technique which enabled adult stem cells to be transformed back into embryonic stem cells. 3D printing technology is already changing the world of manufacturing and now its revolutionizing biotechnology as well. Researchers at Scotland’s Heriot-Watt University developed a system for printing human embryonic stem cells. The technology could improve human drug testing and potentially create purpose-built replacement organs.
A team from Heriot-Watt’s Biomedical Microengineering group successfully printed human embryonic stem cells in a laboratory using a valve-based technique. The embryonic stem cells, which were stored in two separate reservoirs within the printer, were printed using pneumatic pressure. The stem cells were deposited onto a plate in a pre-programmed uniform pattern via the opening and closing of a micro valve and the number of cells dispensed was precisely controlled by adjusting nozzle diameter, air pressure, and opening time of the valve.
This new valve-based printing system was able to maintain high stem cell viability, and accurately produced spheroids of uniform size. More importantly, printed cells maintained their pluripotency, meaning they could still transform into any other type of cell.
3D stem cell printing has the potential to revolutionize modern biotechnology. Drug discovery primarily focuses on targeting human disease, so human tissues are vital in drug testing. Stem cell printing will allow the creation of accurate human tissue models, necessary for drug development and toxicity-testing.
Additionally, the technology could be used to create artificial organs and tissues. By incorporating a patient’s own stem cells, it could drastically reduce the risk of organ rejection and the need for immune suppression. 3D printed organs would also help solve the global organ shortage, which has inflated the price of black market kidneys above $150,000. Breakthroughs in stem-cell research, primarily the process of turning adult stem cells into embryonic stem cells, could eliminate ethical objections to the process. The group at Heriot-Watt has already teamed up with Roslin Cellab in an effort to commercialize 3D stem cell printing and change the biotechnology industry forever.
Is this technology exciting or do you think it will have little effect on stem cell / drug research? Would you be comfortable getting a printed organ transplant?