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3D printing technique uses human embryonic stem cells

11 February 2013

By Michelle Downes

Appeared in BioNews 692

For the first time human embryonic stem cells (hESCs) have been used in a 3D printing process and retained the properties that make them unique.

Researchers working in the field of 3D printing - in which differently shaped objects are produced from digital models - had already used other stem cells in experimental techniques. hESCs, which are prized for their ability to develop into any other kind of cell in the body, are fragile and had not previously been used.

But scientists at Heriot-Watt University in Edinburgh used the cells like components of the ink in a conventional printer to produce 'spheroids' of defined shapes and sizes. Control of the dimensions of the spheroids is important as hESCs require tightly regulated conditions in order to function correctly.

Dr Will Shu, who led the study, said that the technology was 'gentle enough to maintain high stem cell viability, accurate enough to produce spheroids of uniform size, and most importantly, the printed hESCs maintained their pluripotency - the ability to differentiate into any other cell type'.

The study reports that 99 percent of the cells tested were considered viable after printing. The cells were originally sourced from an embryonic kidney and from a well-known embryonic cell line. After growing in culture they were housed in a reservoir - an 'inkwell' of sorts - before being pumped through the valves of the printer.

One of the possible eventual applications of this kind of technology would be in producing tissue samples for drug development that would reduce the need for animal testing. Further down the line, Dr Shu adds, 'we envisage the technology being developed to create viable 3D organs for medical implantation from a patient's own cells, eliminating the need for organ donation, immune suppression and the problem of transplant rejection'.

Jason King, business development manager at Roslin Cellab, a biotechnology company working with the university research team, called the study 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'.

The research is published in the journal Biofabrication.


30 January 2017 - by Anna Leida 
Spanish scientists have made a prototype 3D bioprinter that can create functional human skin...
22 February 2016 - by Kulraj Singh Bhangra 
Researchers in the USA have designed a 3D printer that can build living cells around a biodegradable structure to construct various artificial tissues...
09 November 2015 - by Jessica Richardson 
Scientists have reported on a method that allows successful 3D bioprinting of adult stem cells...

07 January 2013 - by Dr Greg Ball 
Immune cells that can recognise and kill cancer cells have been grown from induced pluripotent stem cells (iPSCs)...
03 December 2012 - by Dr Greg Ball 
Induced pluripotent stem (iPS) cells have been created from a routine blood sample by researchers at the University of Cambridge in the UK, marking an improvement over existing experimental methods that require more invasive tissue biopsies....
28 May 2012 - by Ruth Retassie 
A rewritable memory system using short sections of DNA to hold data in bacterial cells has been developed by synthetic biologists. Dr Drew Endy and his team at Stanford University in California produced the system after three years of work and 750 designs...
23 April 2012 - by Ana Pallesen 
Six new kinds of artificial genetic material have been created by scientists. These XNAs, or xeno-nucleic acids, have similar life-building properties to naturally-occurring DNA...

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