In recent years, the use of a 3D printing technology for cell printing has triggered tremendous interest and there are some exciting demonstrations of printing 3D structures such as artery and kidney. Scottish scientists have figured out how to use 3D printer to create the world's first artificial liver tissue made from human cells.
Alan Faulkner-Jones, part of the Heriot-Watt team, with the new artificial liver cells. Picture: Colin Hattersley
It is discovered that cells growing in more physiological 3D cultures behave differently to the same cells when grown in the type of 2-D cultures currently being used in the drug development sector. Researchers at Edinburgh's Heriot-Watt University have developed valve-based cell-printing processes that are able to deliver cells in specific patterns in volumes as low as 2 nL or less than 5 cells per droplet. The 3D printed artificial human liver tissues "could be very valuable to drug development because they mimic more closely the response of drugs on humans, helping to select safer and more efficient drug candidates."
One of the key challenges has been the development of printing nozzles that are more controllable and gentle on the cells to preserve cell and tissue viability. We recently developed a valve-based dual-nozzle printer (image below) that has been validated to print highly viable cells including the first example of printing human embryonic stem cells for tissue regeneration.
Schematic drawing of the cell printer system, credit: Will Wenmiao Shu, Ph.D., Jason King, Ph.D.
Dr Will Shu is leading the Heriot-Watt University team in this £100,000 project. Working closely with Roslin Cellab in Midlothian, a company that works with pharmaceutical and biotech organisations to push forward the commercialisation of stem-cell products, the team aims to create miniature human liver tissues.
Currently testing new drugs involves the use of a large number of experimental animals. This is not ideal because it is costly and less likely to give an accurate representation of metabolism and toxicity in the human organ.
Researchers hope artificial livers could replace the the animal testing and make it possible for pharmaceutical companies to test new drugs and get faster results and a significant reduction in the cost of clinical trials.
"New blockbuster drugs take ten to 15 years and over $1 billion of investment to get them to market," said Shu.
"Realistically, human organs on a chip could reduce the time to below ten years but, critically, the cost could be as much as halved. And all new drugs need to be tested for potential liver toxicity so this would benefit all diseases."
Developing artificial livers has been difficult because it consists of many different cell types and complex vascular structures to supply the nutrition. Researchers want to make less complex 1mm mini livers using 3D cell printing and differentiation of stem cells. They believe it could take between two and three years before a viable organ is produced.
The research is currently funded by the Scottish Universities Physics Alliance (SUPA) INSPIRE programme.
Posted in 3D Printing Technology
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