3D-Printed structures laden with embryonic stem cells may help create micro-organs in the future, which doctors could use for transplant patients, according to scientists.
Embryonic stem cells (ES cells) – derived from human embryos – are pluripotent stem cells, meaning that they have the ability to develop into any cell type in the body. Because of that feature, embryonic stem cells can be used in regenerative medicine, in which human cells, tissues or organs are repaired or replaced to restore normal function.
Previous research found that the best way to grow embryonic stem cells is in three-dimensional environments – spaces in which the cells can develop similarly to how they would do in the human body – rather than in flat lab dishes.
A 3D printer works much like a regular printer, but instead of laying down ink, it deposits layers of solid material, one on top of the other.
Scientists have recently built a 3D printer for embryonic stem cells that is able to print three-dimensional structures filled with these cells. Not too long ago, 3D printers for embryonic stem cells could only print flat clusters of cells.
Wei Sun, a professor of mechanical engineering at Tsinghua University in Beijing and Drexel University in Philadelphia, said that researchers can now create uniform blocks of embryonic stem cells using a new 3D-printing technique. According to Professor Sun, the blocks could be used to build tissues and even micro-organs.
For the research, the scientists printed out both mouse embryonic stem cells and a hydro gel at the same time. In tissue engineering hydro gels are used as scaffolds for the cells. Scientists say that about ninety percent of all the cells managed to survive the 3D printing process.
The new technique also helped scientists to have better control over the uniformity and size of the embryonic stem cells, compared with previous methods. In embryoid bodies (EBs) – aggregates of pluripotent stem cells – uniformity and size are very important because they can influence what type of cells the embryonic stem cells will turn into.
Rui Yao, co-author of the study and an assistant professor at Tsinghua University in Beijing, said that the next step for the researchers is to find how they can change the size of the embryoid bodies, by modifying the structural parameters and the printing.
Scientists are working on finding ways to print various types of embryoid bodies, side by side, in the future.
The research was published November 4 in the journal Biofabrication.
Image Source: futuristech