Despite a recent media outcry that 3D printers could allow users to print unlicensed firearms, a breakthrough in heathcare has demonstrated that additive manufacturing's potential to save lives can overshadow initial scrutiny.
3D printers have already demonstrated its potential in the biomedical industry through innovations regarding organ scaffolds around which a patient's tissue can grow. But now additive manufacturing researchers have taken this one step closer with the industry's newest product: human embryonic stem cells.
This news follows the announcement of a new “cell printer” developed by researchers at Heriot-Watt University in Edinburgh. The technique uses a highly precise printer that uses cell-containing “bio-ink” to (carefully) spit out uniform droplets that were then able to develop into different cell types.
This is not the first instance of successful cell printing in biomedical research. Harvard Medical School's Utkan Demirci has printed embryonic stem cells from mice, while other labs have printed human stem cells from connective tissue. But what makes this development newsworthy is that human embryonic stem cells can develop into more cell types than those from connective tissues, allowing for more possibilities in the way of lab-grown tissues and organs.
The printer works by combining two bio-ink dispensers – one containing stem cells in a nutrient rich cell medium, with the other containing only the medium – and combining them at various ratios that alter the stem cell concentration. By then depositing the inks in specific sizes and patterns, researchers can encourage the stem cells to specialize into various cell types through a process called differentiation.
While this may sound like test-tube organs are now just around the corner, biomedical engineers like Demirci are mostly focused on potential applications for high-throughput drug testing. By building “mini-tissues” from the bottom up, the need for animal testing would be lessened, and new treatments are expected to emerge as a result.
Despite Demirci's excitement over potential applications, he cautioned in an interview with LiveScience that building whole organs is only a long-term goal. Still, the promise of organ transplant on demand, without the risk of organ rejection and the need for lifelong immune suppression is one researchers continue to strive toward.
Full story at LiveScience