Sunday, February 10, 2013

Creating organs by printing stem cells

Because of a lack of donors it is highly necessary to find an alternative source of organs that can be used for transplantation. Recent studies have shown the success of using stem cells for lab-grown organs, but it is still troublesome to produce such tissues in high quantities. 3D-printing technologies appear to be the solution for this problem, as scientists have shown that such printers can be used for biological material as well. So far, however, stem cells could not be printed because they are too delicate and would die in the process. Researchers have now found a solution for this problem as well, paving the way for 3D-printed organs based on stem cells.

A Scottisch collaboration between Edinburgh's Heriot-Watt University and the Roslin Cellab resulted in a new technique for 3D printers. Dubbed valve-based 3D printing, it allows for the generation of stem cell prints, something that was previously found to be impossible. Stem cells are undifferentiated, which means that they can become any type of cell in the body.
Tissue generation
With their novel valve-based technique, the scientists proved to be capable of loading their 3D printer with embryonic stem cells, which are the most primitive, and keep them alive in the printing process. Because such stem cells can turn into all possible cell types, it means printing them can give rise to all possible organs, at least theoretically. By enabling 3D stem cell printing, it lays the foundation for the creation of artificial organs, and that is an important step in reducing the number of deaths resulting from a lack of donors.

Even though printing stem cells is important, we still need to tell these cells what they need to become in order to create functional tissues that we can use in transplantation. This is something that other scientific groups are currently working on for basically all organs that can be transplanted. Last year, a group of UK and Italian scientists found a way to create functional kidneys from stem cells. 

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