Researchers at North Carolina State University, led by Assoc. Prof. Rohan Shirwaiker, have created a method to “herd” stem cells into desired structures using a biological 3D printer to create specialized structures more easily, overcoming one of the major hurdles in biological 3D printing. While researchers rely on biological scaffolds to help the stem cells differentiate into a particular organ or tissue, this new technique gives the researchers more control in guiding the cells into the desired structure.
The technique works by sending ultrasound waves through the scaffold containing the stem cells and using a variety of parameters to more precisely control the position of the cells in the layers of tissue. The technology will enable researchers to print tissue that much more closely resembles actual human organs and tissues, as the ultrasound allows for precise cell/tissue placement. In a demonstration of the efficacy of the technique, the researchers printed a human meniscus, which people frequently injure and which requires a prolonged healing period. When analyzed, the printed meniscus contained all of the internal microstructures that a human meniscus normally contains. According to Shirwaiker, the researchers also demonstrated the “ability to align cells in ways that are particularly important for other orthopedic soft tissues, such as ligaments and tendons." And unlike many other medical advances, once the technology is commercialized and available, it should be quite inexpensive to use.
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