3D printing could become one the biggest innovations during the next decade. Imagine every home in America using the 3D printing technology whenever something breaks or is needed in the household. Space exploration could benefit from the technology to cut costs and weight when traveling to the Moon or Mars. Instead of bringing a tool or instrument to Mars, why not simply print it out once you get there?
According to Popular Science, scientists are exploring the many possibilities 3D printing technology could bring to laboratory work and research, namely when it comes to engineering stem cells. A team of researchers at Heriot-Watt University in Scotland is developing a 3D printer to generate human embryonic stem cells. By using cells as “ink,” scientists could print living organs and tissue.
The team was able to squeeze out tiny droplets containing five cells or less to produce larger clumps of cells. After printing out the cells using “bio-ink,” the researchers were about to create larger droplets, or cell spheroids. Within each cell spheroid, cells began to group together as if it were organic. The spheroids need proper and exact conditions to work properly, which is why controlled 3D printing is ideal for stem cell research.
Through this process, researchers could make viable stem cells that could transform into any cell in the human body. According to Will Wenmiao Shu, a professor at Heriot-Watt University and the lead researcher, this is the first time in human history that someone printed human embryonic stem cells.
It is believed that these techniques could make it easier for patients who need an organ, without having to search for a matching donor. It could also limit the use of animal research and testing by making it viable to use actual human tissue from a 3D printer. The possibilities are endless!
[And as for those space exploration possibilities, check out this story about a hypothetical 3D-printed Moon base. – Ed.]