3D printing of a human stem cell
Researchers in Scotland have used a 3D printer to arrange human embryonic stem cells for the first time.
To avoid confusion, what the scientists did not do is print a stem cell from scratch.
What they did do is dispense stem cells that had been loaded into the printer's reservoirs, and arrange them in a pre-programmed pattern.
The dream: to one day have the ability to load cells into a 3D printer, press a button, and spit out a viable organ.
The benefits of this should be obvious. If scientists were able to create organs from a patient's own cells, they could "eliminat(e) the need for organ donation, immune suppression, and the problem of transplant rejection," said one of the co-authors of the Scottish study, Dr Will Wenmiao Shu, in a press release announcing the discovery yesterday.
Artificial organs could also create better ways to test for drug toxicity.
The difficulty, however, is printing stem cells in such a way that they remain a) alive and b) pluripotent - that is, retain the ability to differentiate into other kinds of cells. Pluripotency is why stem cells are such a coveted research tool.
Using a special, delicate method called "valve-based" printing, the majority of the printed stem cells in the Scottish study seemed to remain viable and pluripotent.
3D printing is a wildly popular topic right now, gracing the cover of Wired magazine recently and capturing the attention of the world's dreamers.
Kate Allen is the Toronto Star’s global science and technology reporter. Follow her on Twitter @katecallen