It is hoped that this breakthrough, which has been published Feb. 5 in the journal Biofabrication, will allow three-dimensional tissues and structures to be created using hESCs, which could, amongst other things, speed up and improve the process of drug testing.
In the field of biofabrication, great advances have been made in recent years towards fabricating three-dimensional tissues and organs by combining artificial solid structures and cells; however, in the majority of these studies, animal cells have been used to test the different printing methods which are used to produce the structures.
Co-author of the study, Dr Will Wenmiao Shu, from Heriot-Watt University, said: "To the best of our knowledge, this is the first time that hESCs have been printed. The generation of 3D structures from hESCs will allow us to create more accurate human tissue models which are essential for in vitro drug development and toxicity-testing. Since the majority of drug discovery is targeting human disease, it makes sense to use human tissues."
In the longer term, this new method of printing may also pave the way for incorporating hESCs into artificially created organs and tissues ready for transplantation into patients suffering from a variety of diseases. In the study, the researchers, from Heriot-Watt University in collaboration with Roslin Cellab, a stem cell technology company, used a valve-based printing technique, which was tailored to account for the sensitive and delicate properties of hESCs. The hESCs were loaded into two separate reservoirs in the printer and were then deposited onto a plate in a pre-programmed, uniformed pattern.
Once the hESCs were printed, a number of tests were performed to discern how effective the method was. For example, the researchers tested to see if the hESCs remained alive after printing and whether they maintained their ability to differentiate into different types of cells. They also examined the concentration, characterisation and distribution of the printed hESCs to assess the accuracy of the valve-based method.