Researchers at the University of Wollongong have done some impressive things. They’ve 3D printed brain tissue, and developed a 3D printing pen capable of drawing cartilage into knees. They’ve created an advanced soft robotic hand. And now they’ve developed a new 3D bioprinter that could revolutionize the way Type 1 diabetes is treated.
The bioprinter is called the Pancreatic Islet Cell Transplantation (PICT) 3D Printer, and it addresses the needs of patients suffering from severe cases of Type 1 diabetes. Those cases are currently treated with donor islet cells, which restore the patients’ ability to produce insulin and regulate their blood sugar. The bioprinter at the University of Wollongong is capable of delivering insulin-producing islet cells from a protective bioink into a 3D printed scaffold that can be transplanted.
Using the bioprinter for transplants could reduce the risk of rejection, as the patient’s own cells could be used. In addition, because multiple types of cells could be 3D printed in the same run, endothelial cells, which are responsible for generating blood flow to the grafted islet cells, could be implanted, improving islet cell survival.
The 3D printer was developed by ARC Centre of Excellence for Electromaterials Science (ACES) and ANFF Materials, which is based at the University of Wollongong. Last week, it was delivered to South Australian Minister for Health Peter Malinauskas for use at the Royal Adelaide Hospital (RAH). The RAH is the first hospital to receive access to the 3D printer, which will be further developed with funding from an Australian Research Council’s Linkage, Infrastructure, Equipment and Facilities (LIEF) grant.
“ACES at the University of Wollongong has built a collaborative clinical research network that enables us to tackle big clinical challenges and deliver practical solutions using 3D bioprinting,” said Professor Gordon Wallace, ACES Executive Director and ANFF Materials Director. “In collaboration with Professor Toby Coates’ team at Royal Adelaide Hospital, we plan to improve the effectiveness of islet cell transplants by encapsulating donated islet cells in a 3D printed structure, to protect them during and after transplantation.”
The number of people living with diabetes – both Type 1 and Type 2 – has risen to over 400 million globally, and it’s expected to continue to rise, with the World Health Organization predicting that it will be the seventh leading cause of death in 2030. In addition to being potentially deadly, the disease can also cause blindness, kidney failure, heart attacks, stroke, and lower limb amputation. The PICT 3D printer has the potential to make the treatment of Type 1 diabetes more effective, and the research going on at the university and the hospital has the potential to develop new treatments and potentially even cures for all patients suffering from the disease.
“The PICT Printer will allow us to make customised organs, mixing donor with recipient cells in a unique 3 Dimensional way to provide completely new composite ‘organoids’ for experimental transplantation,” said Professor Toby Coates, RAH Director of Kidney and Islet Transplantation.
The PICT 3D Printer can therefore be added to the list of amazing things the University of Wollongong has done with 3D printing – a list that seems to just keep growing.
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