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Heriot-Watt researchers print 3D human cells

Stem cell research Image copyright McAteer Photograph
Image caption The refined printer is capable of working with cells derived from a donor's own adult cells

Researchers at Heriot-Watt University have claimed a breakthrough in 3D stem cell printing.

They said it could pave the way for individually tailored drug testing regimes.

Their hope is that the development could reduce the need for animal testing.

The technology could also help ensure patients receive drugs which are most effective for their individual needs.

3D bioprinting is the process of generating cell patterns using 3D printing technologies

A team of researchers led by Dr Will Shu at the university's School of Engineering and Physical Sciences (EPS) put together a 3D printer capable of working with delicate stem cells.

Working in conjunction with Roslin Cellab, the team have now refined the printer to make it capable of printing induced stem cells, derived from a donor's own adult cells, which are capable of developing into almost any other cell in the body.

Image copyright IOP Publishing
Image caption The challenge was to develop a printer gentle enough not to damage cells

A report on the team's work has been published in the IOP journal Biofabrication.

Dr Shu said: "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; 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."

In the short term, the researchers plan to use the cell printing process to make miniature 3D human tissues for testing pharmaceutical drugs.

This should reduce the need for live animal testing.

Image copyright IOP Publishing
Image caption The technique could be a step towards "personalised medicine"

Once the technique is established, specifically made tissue from an individual patient would enable doctors to prescribe drugs most likely to work for the patient and with fewest side effects.

Dr Shu added: "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."

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