12 years ago, Dr. Anthony Atala, a leading stem cell specialist at Boston Children’s Hospital, created a lab-grown bladder from a patient’s own stem cells. The procedure involved obtaining a sample from the patient’s bladder, and culturing the stem cells to grow into a full-sized, functional bladder. 12 years following the procedure, the patient is thriving and has experienced no long-term adverse effects from the regenerated bladder. Since then, the differentiation protocols utilized to grow the bladder have been successfully adapted to grow other functioning tissues like skin, cartilage and urethras, which is indicative of the paradigm shift stem cells represent in treating organ deficiencies.
In a breakthrough study, 3D printed organs have been vascularized to sustain the growing tissue and bring printed organs one step closer to fruition. Currently, hundreds of thousands of Americans are on waiting lists for life-saving organs, and 20 patients die waiting each day. This innovative research by Prellis Biologics is making headway to allow for more effective and efficient printing of organs. 3D printing has had to overcome 2 major obstacles: the development of a biological scaffold to allow for three dimensional growth of cells into the desired organs, and the oxygenation and nutrient delivery to the growing tissue for prolonged periods of printing time using blood vessels. Though a biological medium for 3D tissue growth has already been developed, Prellis has created a more effective an efficient method of vascularizing the growing organ tissue, as well as expediting the printing process as a whole.
Researchers at Newcastle University are 3D printing corneas utilizing stem cells. The process involves mixing stem cells in a bio-gel which is derived from seaweed and collagen that allows these stem cells to be cultured and printed easily and efficiently into fully functioning corneas. The cornea plays an important role in focusing light that enters the eye. Technically, blindness caused by corneal damage is easily reversible with a corneal transplant. However, there is a vast shortage of donor corneas due to general organ and tissue donation shortages. In addition, there is also a significant risk of rejection - as is the case with any donated tissue.