Researchers at Heriot-Watt University in Edinburgh, Scotland, have collaborated with UK stem cell tech firm Roslin Cellab on a valve-based 3D printing technique that creates tissue from human embryonic stem cells. The new printing technique could be used to construct human tissue samples for drug testing.
In the long term, the technique could also revolutionise the organ donation and transplant process by enabling the creation of purpose-built transplant organs. By creating organs from the patient’s cells, the technique would eliminate the need for immune suppression and greatly reduce the risk of transplant rejection.
While other cell cultures, including bone marrow and skin, have been 3D printed in the past, this is the first time the more delicate embryonic stem cells – which can grow to become any sort of human body cell – have been replicated in this way.
“Up to now, human stem cell cultures have been too sensitive to manipulate in this way,” James King, business manager for Roslin Cellab, said in a statement. “This is a scientific development that we hope and believe will have immensely valuable long-term implications for reliable, animal-free drug-testing.” King added that the development could lead to “organs for transplant on demand”.
The 3D printing process has been fuelling biotechnology advances for years: Stylus first noted researchers at Washington State University developing 3D-printed bone material for orthopaedic and dental implants in 2011. For the latest in 3D printing advances, see Stylus’ 3D Printing: From Gimmick to Game Changer update.