Jul 26, 2017 | By Benedict

Researchers at Australia’s University of Wollongong have found a way to 3D print human induced pluripotent stem cells (iPSCs) using a special bioink. The technique could be used to print “any type” of bodily tissue, including brain tissue.

3D printed neurons (left) and the iPSC-laden bioink

When a group of scientists claims to have made a breakthrough in the 3D printing of human pluripotent stem cells, the medical industry is sure to take notice. After all, every step taken in this area of research brings the industry a step closer to 3D printing transplantable human organs.

The latest group of scientists to contribute a significant discovery to the field comes from Australia’s  University of Wollongong, whose ARC Centre of Excellence for Electromaterials Science (ACES) has found a new way of 3D printing human induced pluripotent stem cells (iPSCs) with a custom-developed bioink.

The researchers say anybody’s cells can be used to generate the iPSCs, which can then be 3D printed to fit with any cell environment.

“This flexible 3D tissue engineering technology enables iPSCs generated from an individual’s own body to divide after printing and differentiate in a way that will allow us to form and replace any tissue type of the body,” commented Associate Professor Jeremy Crook, a stem cell expert at the University of Wollongong.

The University of Wollongong's Jeremy Crook

In a study that has been published in Advanced Healthcare Materials, Crook and the other researchers—Qi Gu, Eva Tomaskovic-Crook, and ACES director Gordon G. Wallace—explain how they have already begun preclinical safety studies so that they can further advanced their 3D printed tissues for use in medical research.

Although this kind of research can be applied to pharmaceutical testing and other areas, the University of Wollongong scientists firmly believe their 3D printed tissues could eventually be used for human transplantation.

“By developing this further we will be able to generate healthy and diseased tissues for research, identifying better drugs for medicine and replacing or repairing damaged tissues or organs due to injury or disease,” Crook said.

The ACES team even thinks its bioink-produced tissues could result in transplants with a lower risk of immune rejection.

This is just one of many reasons that the Australia-based researchers believe in the bioprinting of iPSCs for surgical treatment. But the work could be used in other areas too.

Diagram of the researchers' 3D printing setup

“Other work in the pipeline involves disease modelling and related drug effect studies,” Crook said.

This stage of research follows the group’s efforts to 3D structures that support the growth of brain-like tissue from human neural stem cells—an area of study that could help scientists better understand the human brain.

“Such advances are only possible through a combination of a diverse array of skills spanning materials science, cell biology, and mechatronic engineering,” Wallace said. “This convergence means we are making rapid progress towards outcomes of clinical significance.”

Using a 3D printer to create nerve cells found in the brain could help medical professionals treat conditions like brain injury, Parkinson's disease, epilepsy, and schizophrenia. Many neuropsychiatric disorders result from an imbalance of neurotransmitters; by 3D printing neurons that produce neurotransmitters like Gamma-aminobutyric acid (GABA) and serotonin, the researchers believe they can directly combat these conditions.

“We might want to make a tissue that specifically generates that neurotransmitter for grafting into the brain of a Parkinson's patient,” Crook said. “That's absolutely achievable.”

The 3D printed neurons are made by printing layers of the bioink into a hatched pattern to create a 5 mm cube. The cube is then crosslinked to make a firm jelly-like substance, after which growth factors and nutrients were applied to the cube, encouraging stem cells to grow and transform into neurons and support cells.

Crook admitted that a fully 3D printed brain is a long way off, but believes his team’s work could yet play a significant part in the history of the medicine.



Posted in 3D Printing Technology



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