As much fun as 3D printing can be (printed mini figurines and lampshades anyone?), it’s also a world-changing technology with the potential to save lives. Scientists at Heriot-Watt University in Edinburgh just successfully 3d printed embryonic stem cells for the first time, and the technology has the potential to eliminate the need for organ donation. The artificial tissue could also provide laboratories with a ready supply of material for research purposes, eliminating animal drug testing and the need to acquire embryonic stem cells.
The process – developed by Dr. Will Shu and his colleagues at Heriot-Watt University’s Biomedical Microengineering group in partnership with Roslin Cellab – is different from previous 3D cell printing attempts because it can produce delicate embryonic cell cultures. Prior to this, printing could only produce 2D cells or cells that are tougher than human stem cells. “To the best of our knowledge, this is the first time that these cells have been 3D printed. The technique will allow us to create more accurate human tissue models which are essential to in vitro drug development and toxicity-testing,” says Dr. Shu.
The technology could provide doctors with an endless supply of organs for transplantation, and it could entirely eliminate the practice of animal drug testing. According to Dr. Shu, “In the longer term, we envisage the technology being further 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.”