Oct 21, 2015 | By Alec

New and life-saving medical applications are perhaps the most important thing to come out of 3D printing innovations, and in that respect we are always very happy to learn about new and promising applications. Most of the truly important applications concern the 3D printing of transplantable cellular structures and custom drug solutions, and now another innovation can be added to that list of upcoming medical revolutions. Scientists from the Edinburgh-based Heriot-Watt University have just announced a new breakthrough in the field of 3D stem cell printing, one that could lead to individually tailored drug regimens and a decrease in the need for medical animal testing.

This fantastic breakthrough has been achieved by a team led by Dr. Will Shu, from the university’s School of Engineering and Physical Sciences (EPS), in collaboration with the Roslin Cellab. The latter is a specialized Scottish company that provides contract research and product development work, and closely works together with academic institutes. As they explain in a report in the journal Biofabrication, they have essentially built a 3D printer capable of printing induced stem cells from a patient’s own cells.

Stem cells are one of those medical topics politicized far beyond the use for patients, but few people will oppose this particular innovation as it relies on a patient’s own cells. While the same 3D printer was originally used to 3D print stem cells derived from embryo tissue, it has since been overhauled to work with iPS cells, or pluripotent stem cells. These can be used to generate cell types for organs and even brain cells.

While these cells are less controversial, they are far more delicate and complicated to use, but dr. Shu and his team have succeeded in using them. ‘This study is the first to demonstrate that human induced pluripotent stem cells, that is stem cells derived from the adult patient's own cells, can be bioprinted without adversely affecting their biological functions; that our 3D printing process is gentle enough to do this,’ dr. Shu said. ‘In this instance we showed that after printing we could turn the stem cells into liver cells.’ This is the first time iPS cells are successfully bioprinted without affecting their functions.

While the possible applications of this particular method are manifold, one initial plan is to make 3D human tissue samples that can be used to test pharmaceutical drugs – thereby reducing the need for the also controversial medical animal testing. This method could then be used to make drug regimens that fit each patient individually and decrease the chance of side effects as much as possible. ‘The ability to bioprint stem cells while either maintaining their pluripotency, their ability to develop into all types of cells in the body, or indeed directing their differentiation into specific cell types, will pave the way for producing organoids, or tissues on demand, from patient specific cells,’ the researcher explains. ‘These could then be used for animal-free drug development and personalized medicine.’

However, the future holds many fantastic applications too. It is hoped that stem cell technology will be used to revolutionize organ transplant applications, as replacement organs can be essentially grown from a patient’s own cells. According to dr. Jason King of Roslin Cellab, this innovation offers a lot of potential for tissue engineers dealing with specific diseases. Some success is already being achieved in regards to heart disease and neurodegenerative diseases such as Parkinson’s, so the hopes are very high.

Scottish researchers are at the forefront of (3D printed) personalization medication, and Edinburgh University recently awarded a fund of £11.4 million to efforts to grow biological organisms from stem cells with an eye on custom made drugs. The Queen Elizabeth University Hospital in Glasgow is even home to the £20m Stratified Medicine Scotland Innovation Centre, where similar research is being done, so the country is definitely a big player in the ongoing race for 3D bioprinting breakthroughs.



Posted in 3D Printing Application



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