Researchers had already used inkjet printers to print out 2D cultures of living cells. But printing blobs of cells rather than flat sheets is closer to real tissue.
Human embryonic stem cells are pluripotent, which means they are capable of becoming a cell in any type of tissue, making them attractive to those who are trying to grow new organs. But it is hard to print them, says Wenmiao Shu at Heriot-Watt University in Edinburgh, UK, because they are sensitive to manipulation. So Shu has modified a valve-based printer nozzle so it gently squirts out cells in blobs rather than a single layer.
The blobs have structural rigidity, says Shu, so could be used to grow organs without a scaffold. “They are like building blocks” says Shu.
“It’s a nice piece of work,” says Brian Derby at the University of Manchester, UK. “If you put a blob of cells down it will fuse into clumps, which is closer to how it is in the body.” But he would like to see more evidence that the cells retain their pluripotency after being printed.