The idea of using ink-jet printing technology to print living cells is not new. Companies like Orgonovo have been working toward bioprinting 3D human tissues models for years. BioCurious hackers created a working DIY cell printer last year and used it to print arabinose onto filter paper to activate GFP-expressing E. coli. Such efforts are the results of new combinations of science, medicine and engineering.
But researchers at the University of Cambridge have now upped the ante. Using a piezoelectric printhead, they were able to print cells from an adult animal’s central nervous system, forming layers of two types of cells taken from the retinas of rats. Though the scientists were concerned that the delicate cells would not survive, they found that viability was not affected and that there were no significant differences between cultures of printed and traditionally prepared cells. Results were published in the journal Biofacbrication and are available for free online.
“We are not aware of any studies where inkjet technology has been used successfully to print viable cells derived from the eye, or any other part of the mature adult central nervous system (CNS), which is an important step in the development of tissue grafts for regenerative medicine,” they wrote. “Importantly, we found that printed [cells] retain their growth promoting properties.”
The team hopes to use the technology as a tool to grow tissues outside of the eye and then implant them into patients with retinal damage. Though scientists can already grow single layers of cells in culture, the use of printer technology will allow them to carefully place multiple cell types into intricate positions, replicating the highly-organized structures found naturally in the body.