A team of bioengineers and biomedical scientists from the University of Sydney and the Children’s Medical Research Institute (CMRI) at Westmead have used 3D photolithographic printing to create a complex environment for assembling tissue that mimics the architecture of an organ.
The teams were led by Professor Hala Zreiqat and Dr Peter Newman at the University of Sydney’s School of Biomedical Engineering and developmental biologist Professor Patrick Tam who leads the CMRI’s Embryology Research Unit.
Using bioengineering and cell culture methods, the technique was used to instruct stem cells derived from blood cells or skin cells to become specialised cells that can assemble into an organ-like structure.
Similar to how the needle of a record player navigates the vinyl grooves to create music, cells use strategically positioned proteins and mechanical triggers to navigate through their intricate environment, replicating developmental processes.
The team’s latest research employed microscopic mechanical and chemical signals to recreate the cellular activities during development.
Professor Hala Zreiqat said, “Our new method serves as an instruction manual for cells, allowing them to create tissues that are better organised and more closely resemble their natural counterparts. This is an important step towards being able to 3-D print working tissue and organs.”
Dr Newman said building tissues from cells required detailed instruction, not dissimilar to constructing a building from many different parts.
“Imagine trying to build a Lego castle by randomly scattering the blocks on a table and hoping that they’ll fall into the correct place. Even though each block is designed to connect with others, without a clear plan, you’d likely end up with something that looks more like a large pile of disconnected Lego blocks rather than a castle.”
Research into complex tissue and organ-like structures, known as organoids, helps researchers understand how organs develop and function and how diseases affecting the organ may be caused by genetic mutations and developmental errors. The knowledge gleaned from the study also enables the development of cell and gene therapy for diseases.
The ability to generate the desired cell types further provides the capacity to produce clinically relevant stem cells for therapeutic purposes.
The researchers are hopeful that the research will have the potential for treating vision loss caused by conditions such as macular degeneration and inherited diseases causing loss of retinal photoreceptor cells.
The team will next focus on furthering the technique to advance the field of regenerative medicine and potentially new treatment approaches for many diseases.
Members of the research team included Hala Zreiqat, Patrick Tam, Peter Newman, Queenie Yip, Pierre Osteil, Tim Anderson, Jane Sun, Daryan Kempe, Mate Biro, and Jae-Won Shin.