Apr 27, 2017 | By David

Some of the most impressive advances in 3D printing technology over the last few years have been in the field of bioprinting, with cells, tissue, and sometimes entire organs being replicated for all kinds of useful applications. The latest breakthrough by a team of researchers in Japan has seen a model of liver tissue being produced through a scaffold-free bioprinting method. This tissue can be used in the development and testing of drugs, and also sheds some light on the causes of liver disease.

We’ve reported before on projects where 3D bioprinting was used to make models of the liver, which is one of the most important organs to replicate in a laboratory due to its centrality to the metabolism. Most metabolic functions in the human body, such as enzyme secretion or processing of toxins, are carried out by hepatic parenchymal cells, which comprise about 78% of the liver. So a working model of the liver can be used to carry out various crucial tests, such as observing the effects of newly developed drugs on metabolism or examining metabolic diseases such as diabetes, obesity, and non-alcoholic steatohepatitis (NASH).

The majority of previous studies involving replica liver tissue have used 2D cell cultures. These are useful up to a point, but are unable to sustain function over a long period of time, which limits their range of experimental applications. They also lack the exact three-dimensional structure of real liver tissue. Scaffolds have been used in the past to replicate this 3D element, but this is still lacking in accuracy. A scaffold-free 3D printed liver tissue, capable of maintaining its metabolic function over an extended period, would therefore be a unique development, one that would be highly desirable for clinical study.

A team of researchers based in the Department of Drug Discovery at the University of Tokyo have now managed to achieve this, and the results of their 3D bioprinting project were just published online. The bioprinting process makes use of Cyfuse Biomedical’s Regenova 3D printer, which has been used in the past to make small-diameter blood vessels, nerves, and cartilage tissue, amongst other things. (It also featured in our roundup of the top 20 3D bioprinters). It works by assembling a set of spheroid cell aggregates, in this case liver cells, on an array of very fine needles, according to a pre-designed 3D model of the desired tissue. These cells then autonomously interact and connect together, gradually building up the liver tissue structure over time. This tissue is then removed and placed in a vial with the culture medium.

The resulting liver model was able to maintain drug-metabolizing functions for over seven weeks, and maintainted NAFLD disease pathology for at least three weeks. After being cultured for at least three weeks, the model was able to secrete bile acid in the culture medium, and after 11 weeks it was able to regulate the production of glucose with the hormone insulin. These results of the tests were very promising, and showed great potential for future drug discovery projects.

Future 3D bioprinting projects are planned that will build on this research for even more applications. The tissue could be used as part of a disease model, which could be used to test the efficacy and safety of drugs by closely mimicking the drug responsiveness of the liver. Another 3D bioprinted model is planned that will combine liver tissue with a microfluidics system. This will replicate various interactions between the liver and other organs of the body.



Posted in 3D Printing Application



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