It is hoped that this breakthrough 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.
hESCs have received much attention in the field of regenerative medicine. They are originally derived from an early stage embryo to create "stem cell lines" which can be grown indefinitely and differentiate into any cell type in the human body.
"In the longer term, we envisage the technology being further developed to create viable 3D organs for medical implantation from a patient's own cells, eliminating the need for organ donation, immune suppression and the problem of transplant rejection," continued Dr Shu.