Our previous blog post outlined many of the challenges present in the field of bioprinting. With the help of research, funding and advancement in technology these challenges faced can be conquered. However, there is another challenge this field faces that is not helped by any amount of scientific advancement in the field; the moral controversy of using stem cells.
Let us first discuss, what exactly stem cells are. Stem cells act as a repair system for the body, replenishing adult tissues. There are two categories of stem cells: adult stem cells and embryonic stem cells. Adult stem cells can be extracted through bone marrow, adipose tissue (fat) and blood. Embryonic stem cells, as the name alludes, are derived from embryos – thus, opening the door for discussion revolving around ethical concerns.
What distinguishes embryonic stem cells from adult stem cells is that they are pluripotent; meaning that they have the potential to adopt a variety of cell specialized functions. Using embryonic stem cells in “bio-ink” would lead to vast improvements in printed organs. The regenerative power of these stem cells could be harnessed for repairing extensive tissue damage, for example; serious burn victims.
On the other hand, there are possible alternatives to using embryonic stem cells. Doctor Shinya Yamanaka, who has recently been awarded with the Nobel Prize in medicine, has discovered a way to revert adult cells into pluripotent stem cells. This gives the adult cells the ability to become specialized cells for repairing damaged tissues. Doctor Yamanaka has achieved this process by adding 4 genes to the skin cells. These genes reprogram the cells into a stem cell state, which can then be directed to become various specialized cells, taking the form of a normal cell in an organ that needs repair or replacement. This breakthrough will allow the cell sample to be taken from the patient, which could in turn reduce the chances of the body rejecting the tissue or organs reproduced through bioprinting. Dr. Yamanaka’s groundbreaking research shows great promise for the continuous progress of bioprinting, leading the world one step closer to the use of 3D printed organs!
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– Sincerely BP