3D printing inside mini-organs could revolutionize disease research

Researchers from the NIHR Great Ormond Street Hospital Biomedical Research Centre in collaboration with the University College London (UCL) and the University of Padova in Italy have made a significant breakthrough in the field of 3D printing. They have successfully demonstrated the ability to 3D print inside miniature organs that are grown in hydrogels. This groundbreaking technique allows scientists to control the shape, activity, and growth of tissues, enabling more accurate studies of cells and organs, the creation of realistic organ models, and a better understanding of cancer metastasis.

The Zayed Centre for Research, a partnership between Great Ormond Street Hospital, GOSH Charity, and UCL’s Great Ormond Street Institute of Child Health, has been particularly active in the field of organoid science. Organoids are micro-scale replicas of organs such as the stomach, intestines, and lungs. However, the growth of organoids is often uncontrolled and fails to replicate the complex structure of natural organs, which is essential for accurate representation.

The research published in Nature Communications describes how the scientists have developed a method to create solid structures within the gel medium in real time. By utilizing high-specification microscopes and light, they can guide the growth of organoids within the gel, ensuring specific and precise development of cells and tissues. This technique opens up possibilities for recreating and studying organ malformations that occur during early pregnancy and provides better disease models, leading to more reliable research results and potentially reducing the need for animal testing. Moreover, it may facilitate the delivery of biologically accurate patches to treat living organs.

The applications of this printing technique are diverse. For instance, in studying microscopic brain cells called neurons, the researchers can create defined paths or “rails” along which neurons can grow, making it easier to isolate and study them. In the case of microscopic intestines, they can use a complex hydrogel mold to guide the organoids into shapes that mimic the intricate structures of developing intestines. Additionally, the scientists have successfully patterned a hydrogel to encourage lung cells to branch out, replicating the behavior of real lung tissue. Furthermore, the technique enables the creation of hardened gel cages around cancer cells, allowing researchers to observe how the cells’ movement changes in response to variations in the surrounding tissue’s density and hardness. This is vital for comprehending the mechanisms of cancer metastasis.

Dr. Giovanni Giobbe from UCL GOS ICH, who co-led the research, expressed excitement about witnessing precise structures forming as a result of their adjustments to the polymer gel. Dr. Anna Urciuolo from the University of Padova highlighted the multidisciplinary nature of this work, emphasizing the advancements it represents in biomedical research and the potential for translational medicine. Professor Paolo De Coppi, a pediatric surgeon at GOSH and UCL GOS ICH, praised the collaborative effort between teams specializing in organoid research in the UK and gel-printing expertise in Italy, emphasizing the benefits for both research and patient care.

The next phase of this research will involve studying these controlled and directed mini-organs to better understand their ability to mimic real organs and conditions in the human body.

Source: University College London

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