It used to be that 3D printers were only capable of printing plastic objects that resemble real-world objects minus the functionality. These days, however, 3D printing has revolutionized the way some functional objects are made, whether as a whole or as a part. One great example of this is Amsterdam’s metal footbridge that’s being constructed by torch-wielding robots through 3D printing.
The latest chapter of the evolution of 3D printing involves micro-organs and a new revolutionary technique that will one day allow doctors to simply print out micro-organs for transplant patients who need them. 3D-printed assemblies that are loaded with embryonic stem cells have great potential in making this life-saving concept a reality.
How It Works
Human embryos contain the embryonic stem cells that are essential for developing any kind of cell in the body, from brain tissue to bone. This unique property is what makes embryonic stem cells the perfect catalysts for regenerative medicine—replacing and repairing damaged cells, tissues, and ultimately, organs.
A process known as differentiation is what medical researchers and scientists use to experiment with embryonic stem cells. It works by dosing the cells with biological stimulants to induce development and guide the cells toward specific tissue types. Previous research has given scientists significant insight in the way embryonic stem cells develop. It suggested that 3D environments that replicate the way cells might develop inside a human body is the most efficient way to grow the cells, and not in lab dishes.
A 3D printer used in most stem cell research labs work by depositing layers of material on top of one another, forming flat arrays that look basically like simple mounds. These are known as stalagmites. The new technique discovered by scientists, however, involves a different way of printing 3D structures that are loaded with embryonic stem cells.
In a recent study, the revolutionary 3D printing technique has allowed 90% of the stem cells to survive the printing process. The cells have multiplied into embryoid bodies inside the hydrogel scaffolds. The cells have also generated the type of proteins that are expected in healthy embryonic stem cells.