Scientists from the University of Edinburgh for the first time have printed 3D objects using human embryonic stem cells. Eventually, the technology should allow scientists to make three-dimensional human tissue in the lab, eliminating the need for organ donation or testing on animals, they say.

Human embryonic stem cells (hESCs) are acquired from human embryos and can develop into any type of cell in an adult person, from brain tissue to muscle to bone. This attribute makes them ideal for use in regenerative medicine — repairing, replacing and regenerating anything from malfunctioning kidneys and lungs, to damaged spinal cords and even baldness.

The Edinburgh researchers have created a cell printer made from a modified CNC machine (a computer-controlled machining tool) equipped with two "bio-ink" dispensers: one containing stem cells in a nutrient-rich soup called cell medium and another containing just the medium. In prior 3D printing experiments, hESCs have proven too fragile. But this printer “prints” uniform-size droplets of cells gently enough to keep them alive and maintain their ability to develop into different cell types. The cells are shot out with a tiny blast of air, and the flow is controlled by the opening and closing of a micro-valve.

Source: Dr. Will Shu / Biofabrication. The new 3D cell printer used compressed air to squirt out “bio-links” containing cells and nutrient-rich fluid.