The pancreas is one of the most critical organs in the human body – if something goes wrong with it, it can affect your whole life, or even threaten it. Although it’s a relatively small organ, it plays big roles in digestion and metabolism, and when it malfunctions, it can result in acute life-threatening conditions such as pancreatitis or chronic ones like diabetes. Then there’s pancreatic cancer. While it’s relatively rare compared to other types of cancers, it’s one of the most difficult to treat, and it’s often not detected until it’s too late to cure.
As is the case with so many other terrible diseases, however, 3D printing can offer hope. Stem cell research company Celprogen Inc. has announced that they have successfully 3D printed a human pancreas from PLA seeded with adult human pancreatic stem cells. It’s the second major announcement within a few months from Celprogen, which in September revealed that they had used human cardiac stem cells to 3D print a heart that could potentially be transplanted into a human one day.
The 3D printed pancreas was created using the same method that the researchers used to print the heart. The 3D printed PLA organ was coated with extracellular matrix protein (ECM) and then seeded with pancreatic stem cells of two different types: T225 human Pancreatic Stem Cells 36097-24-T225 and human adult pancreatic cells 3002-04-T225. Creating the scaffold from flexible PLA allowed the seeded cells to potentially differentiate into a functional adult pancreas. The 3D printed organ was reduced from the size of a typical 18-year-old pancreas to about 1/5 of its original size.
Obviously, this is big news, though it’s important to remember that any medical innovation such as this has a long way to go before it can be used in a clinical setting. Right now, Celprogen is still in the process of validating their 3D printed PLA heart, which they plan to use in the near future to test newly developed drugs for potential cardiac toxicity. They will be presenting the 3D printed heart next week at the American Society of Cell Biology annual meeting, which is taking place in San Francisco December 3-7.
Celprogen will be working on validating the 3D printed pancreas as well as the heart. The company, which has been a leader in the stem cell research and therapeutics industry since being founded in 2002, is studying 3D printing as a means of fabricating functional human organs from multiple major organ systems, in the hopes of eventually creating viable organs for potential transplant into patients.
There may not be a cure for diabetes or pancreatic cancer tomorrow, but knowing that companies such as Celprogen are pouring tremendous amounts of research, time and money into developing actual replacement organs is both exciting and reassuring. Discuss in the Celprogen forum at 3DPB.com.