Printing has come a long way since the days of Johannes Gutenberg and his famous press. Nowadays, we are printing plaster casts for broken bones, replacement parts for space stations and now, a new study shows us that we are well on our way to be able to print human organs. This version of printing, called bioprinting, aims to use pluripotent stem cells or stem cell derivatives as the “ink” to form complex 3D cellular structures which may be used in disease modeling, drug testing, and ultimately, organ transplants.
One problem with bioprinting is the unavoidable stress that the cells endure during the process; stress which could affect survival, function, and differentiation potential. Now researchers from the laboratory of Wenmiao Shu (Heriot-Watt University, Edinburgh, Scotland) have studied the effects of valve-based bioprinting on human pluripotent stem cell and cells undergoing differentiation towards hepatocyte-like cells (HLCs), in the hope of generating 3D liver organ structures.
Their exciting new study, using an improved cell-printing platform, found that:
- Short nozzle length and optimized pressure settings permitted the survival of bioprinted cells
- 2D bioprinting of human pluripotent stem cells (both embryonic and induced pluripotent) did not change their viability or pluripotency.
- Bioprinting pluripotent stem cells during their directed differentiation to HLCs did not affect the ongoing differentiation process and generated 2D cultures of cells with the proper morphology and the ability to secrete albumin (like normal liver cells).
- Bioprinting cells undergoing differentiation from pluripotent stem cells into HLCs within a 3D alginate hydrogel matrix generated a viable liver structure.
- Cells within the construct survived to the end of the 23-day differentiation process and also secreted albumin.
Success! Bioprinting pluripotent stem cells and their derivatives seems to be feasible, and, therefore, this study could represent an important step towards the generation of replacement human organs. The authors hope to build upon this success and formulate an improved strategy to enhance albumin secretion and 3D organ formation.
But before you print your first organ, go ahead and print off a copy of this excellent new study – Biofabrication, 2015.