All humans start out from a single cell, which then separates to ultimately form the embryo. Relying upon the signals sent by their close cells, these split cells are then developed or differentiated into particular tissues or organs.
In regenerative medicine, that distinction in the lab is vital as stem cells could be separated to allow for more growth of organs in vitro and replace damaged adult cells, more so those with very restricted abilities to replicate, such as the heart or brain.
Embryoid Bodies as the Key
One widely-used approach scientists use when differentiating stem cells is by using chemical stimulators. Although this technique is very effective in making one single kind of cells, it doesn’t have the capacity to reproduce the intricacy of living organisms, where numerous cell types coexist and work together to shape an organ.
Optionally, inspired by the natural process of cell development, another technique requires the packing of stem cells into small cellular masses or spheres known as embryoid bodies. Similar to real embryos, the cell-cell interaction in embryoid bodies is the key driver of differentiation.
With the production of these embryoid bodies, it was discovered that parameters such as cell numbers, size, and sphericity of the embryoid bodies impacted the kinds of cells that are created.
Still, since researchers couldn’t control those aspects, they have had to arduously create large numbers of embryoid bodies and choose particular ones with fitting features to be examined.
To deal with this challenge, scientists from the Singapore University of Technology and Design (SUTD) choose to try additive manufacturing in order to control stem cell differentiation in embryoid bodies. Their research paper was published in the journal Bioprinting.
Combining Research Domains to Improve Cardiomyocytes Production
Employing a multidisciplinary method of merging the research domains of 3D manufacturing and life sciences, Ph.D. student Rupambika Das and Assistant Professor Javier G. Fernandez 3D-printed a number of micro-scaled physical devices with exquisitely-tuned geometries.
They used the device to prove all-time new accuracy in the directed differentiation of stem cells via the formation of embryoid bodies. In their research, they successfully regulated the criteria for improving the production of cardiomyocytes, cells that are found in the heart.
“The field of additive manufacturing is evolving at an unrivaled pace. We are seeing levels of precision, speed, and cost that were inconceivable just a few years ago. What we have demonstrated is that 3-D printing has now reached the point of geometrical accuracy, where it is able to control the outcome of stem cell differentiation. And in doing so, we are propelling regenerative medicine to further advance alongside the accelerated rate of the additive manufacturing industry,” principal investigator Assistant Professor Javier G. Fernandez from SUTD, explained.
“The use of 3-D printing in biology has been strongly focused on the printing of artificial tissues using cell-laden cells to build artificial organs ‘piece by piece’. Now, we have demonstrated that 3-D printing has the potential for it to be used in a bio-inspired approach in which we can control cells to grow in a lab just as they grow in vitro,” added first author of the paper, Rupambika Das, a Ph.D. student from SUTD.