3D stem cell aim for Heriot-Watt researchers

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A 3D technique which produces clusters of stem cells is set to speed up the creation of artificial organs, scientists claim.

The pioneering process enables scientists to build up layers of human stem cells – experts from Edinburgh’s Heriot-Watt University have been able to build the layers by creating a special movable nozzle which can precisely control the rate cells are dispensed.

This is said to make it easier for scientists to differentiate between cell types and acts as a “print out” of stem cells which could be used to create artificial organs for humans.

The Scottish team also hopes their 3D breakthrough could soon be used to generate biopsy-like tissue samples for drug testing. Experts say that since the majority of drug discovery is targeting human disease, it makes sense to use human tissues.

Lead scientist Dr Will Shu said: “To the best of our knowledge, this is the first time these cells have been 3D printed. We found the technique is gentle enough to maintain high stem cell viability and has the ability to differentiate into any other cell type.”

Embryonic stem cells, which originate from early stage embryos, are known as the “body’s building blocks” as they have the potential to become any type of tissue or organ in the body.

Experts believe medicine will in future see artificial tissue and organs made from cells implanted into the patient from which they are taken, without triggering possible dangerous immune responses.

The findings from the Heriot-Watt project, which was carried out along with stem cell biotech company Roslin Cellab, are reported today in the medical journal Biofabrication.

Jason King, development manager at Cellab, said: “Normally laboratory grown cells grow in 2D, but some cell types have been printed in 3D. However, up to now, human stem cell cultures have been too sensitive to manipulate in this way.

“This is a scientific development we hope and believe will have immensely valuable long-term implications.”