If anyone was keeping count, they’d surely report that bioprinting is one of the most reported on areas relating to 3D printing. And rightfully so; the potential for positively affecting human well-being with bioprinting is great. The need for organ donors is significantly outpacing the supply, and everyday there are thousands maimed in wars, by fire, and vehicular accidents that don’t necessarily need organs, but could really benefit from some skin or muscle tissue. When it comes to arranging biomaterial into useful human tissue, 3D printing can’t be beat, and when it comes to useful human cells, stem cells are tops. Finally, the two have been combined. The Biomedical Microengineering Group at Heriot-Watt University has partnered with the stem cell research and technology company, Roslin Cellab, and have successfully 3D printed with human stem cells.
If you’re not familiar with the fascinating nature of stem cells, enjoy this statement from the University, “While 3D printing of the tougher cell cultures has been achieved before, the new valve-based technique developed by Dr Will Shu and his colleagues at Heriot-Watt’s Biomedical Microengineering group are the first to print the more delicate embryonic cell cultures, which have an ability to replicate indefinitely and differentiate into almost any cell type in the human body.” I wish I knew what this “valve-based technique” was all about; not that that would do anything for my poor understanding of biology, but just so that I could reword it a little bit for you. Considering that stem cells can now be grown in labs, the implication of printing full organs becomes a few years closer. Initially though, these printed tissues will be used for drug development and toxicity testing, but after that, new hearts for everybody!
I’ll leave you with this quote from the Business Development Manager of Roslin Cellab, Jason King, that sums it all up, “This is a scientific development which we hope and believe will have immensely valuable long-term implications for reliable, animal-free drug-testing and, in the longer term to provide organs for transplant on demand, without the need for donation and without the problems of immune suppression and potential organ rejection.”