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Researchers 3D print 'Lego bricks' of functional stem cells

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A team of scientists from Beijing's Tsinghua University have reportedly devised a means of producing uniform embryonic stem cells with a 3D printer. These cells stack like organic Lego bricks and could form the structural basis for future lab-grown organs. "It was really exciting to see that we could grow embryoid body in such a controlled manner," lead author Wei Sun said in a statement. "The grown embryoid body is uniform and homogenous, and serves as a much better starting point for further tissue growth." The study published yesterday in the journal Biofabrication.

These cells are created by extruding biological material from a printer onto a three-dimensional grid structure. This differs from existing methods like growing them in petri dishes (which results in sheets of cells) or the "suspension method" where cells grow like stalagmites in liquid nutrient baths. "However," Sun continued, "these don't show the same cell uniformity and homogenous proliferation." Only the 3D-printed method is able to produce the cellular structures that the researchers were after.

The team hopes to further develop and expand this production method in coming years; first figuring out how to adjust the physical size and shape of the stem cells by adjusting the printing process, then determining how those size changes affect the cell's development and differentiation. Eventually, the team believes that it will be able to print out a mass of stem cells that mature into fully functional micro-organs. It certainly beats transplanting pig hearts.

[Image Credit: Getty Images]

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