October 23, 2015      

3D printing has had a major impact on revolutionizing the medical industry. We’ve seen doctors 3D print a model of an unborn baby’s face to determine if he would need lifesaving surgery at birth. We’ve seen a 3D-printed hand exoskeleton that could redefine the future of hand rehabilitation. And, of course, we’ve seen 3D-printed robotic hands.

Now scientists at Heriot-Watt University in Scotland have developed a breakthrough in 3D printing stem cells that could lead to individually tailored drug regimens and decrease the need for animal testing.

Led by Dr. Will Shu, the Heriot-Watt team developed the first 3D printer that could work with delicate stem cells. They have now updated that printer so it’s gentle enough to enable 3D printing of “induced pluripotent stem (iPS) cells” that are derived from a donor’s own adult cells. This allows the stem cells to be printed in three dimensions without damaging their biological functions.

Dr. Shu says the short-term goal is to use this process to make miniature 3D human tissues for general testing of pharmaceutical drugs and reduce the dependence on live animal testing. Once established, specifically made tissue from each patient would enable doctors to prescribe drugs most likely to work and with fewest side effects.

“This study is the first to demonstrate that human induced pluripotent stem cells, that is stem cells derived from the adult patient’s own cells, can be bioprinted without adversely affecting their biological functions,” says Dr. Shu. “That our 3D printing process is gentle enough to do this. In this instance we showed that after printing we could turn the stem cells into liver cells.

“The ability to bioprint stem cells while either maintaining their pluripotency, their ability to develop into all types of cells in the body, or indeed directing their differentiation into specific cell types, will pave the way for producing organoids, or tissues on demand, from patient specific cells. These could then be used for animal-free drug development and personalised medicine.”

[Source:] The Scotsman