Method developed to print replacement tissues using stem cells

Prof Frank Barry, scientific director of the Regenerative Medicine Institute at NUI Galway, with PhD student Babu Rajendra Prasad. Photograph: Joe OShaughnessy

By using tiny cartridges dispensing one stem cell at a time, Galway-based researchers may soon be able to literally print the scaffold of a healthy human tissue, and let it grow to become a therapeutic transplant.

When the Regenerative Medicine Institute at NUI Galway and Irish start-up company Poly-Pico Ltd recently joined forces for a trial proof-of-concept experiment, the results were spectacular.

They were able to dispense tiny drops from a cartridge filled with a stem cell mixture, each drop containing no more than a single stem cell.

Now imagine that we have five dispensing cartridges, each containing a different type of programmed stem cell, said Frank Barry, professor of cellular therapy and scientific director of the institute.

In principle we could essentially print them on to a surface and, by repeating the process a few thousands of times, obtain a mixture of growing cells and eventually a healthy pancreatic islet.

The islets produced by the printing process would then be transplanted into the pancreas of a Type 1 diabetic patient. The hope is that they will develop there and eventually help with the regulation of blood sugar levels.

It is a futuristic prospect, but it is not science fiction, Prof Barry said.

We are talking five years down the line for potential clinical trials.

In the experiment, the drops containing a single stem cell were easily identified and isolated. The cells were then allowed to replicate themselves into exact copies. Finally the researchers checked that they had remained viable and unaffected by the process.

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Method developed to print replacement tissues using stem cells

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