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Kidney Tissue From the 3D Printer

Kidney tissue  3D printer

A 3D printer usually uses plastic or metalBut did you know that you can also do this with living cells? This is called bioprintingMaking a complete kidney is still a dream of the future, but they already print kidney tissue in 3D.

Making an implantable artificial kidney is a big puzzle that requires a lot of research. Carlos Mota, researcher at the complex tissue regeneration department at Maastricht University, is working on a piece of that puzzle: the 3D printing of living kidney cells, or the bioprinting of kidney tissue.
Print organs in not new.

 In 2011, Anthony Atala demonstrated in a TED talk that it is possible to print a full 3D model of a kidney. "A nice demonstration of what science is working towards, but it was not yet a functional organ," says Mota. This model lacked the complete internal structure: all networks of blood vessels and tubes that make a kidney functional and produce urine.

Piece of kidney

The bio printer is a kind of needle. Under high pressure the cells and gel are pressed out of the needle together and built up layer by layer in 3D.
 Carlos Mota, Maastricht University

Mota is therefore not yet working on a complete kidney. His goal is first to make a functional part of this organ: the nephron. These are important: if they do not work properly, not enough waste products are purified from the blood and the body poisons itself. This is what goes wrong with kidney diseases. There are too few nephrons or they do not work properly, which means that the blood has to be artificially purified to keep a patient alive.

In his bioprinter, Mota stops stem cells at various stages of development. "These cells are not yet fully grown," he explains. "They can become all kinds of different kidney cells." "The gel mimics the structure that kidney cells encounter in the body, and that encourages them to grow and take on the right shape."

Why is bioprinting actually necessary? Several research groups are already so far that they can make minors (organoids) from stem cells in the laboratory. "The problem with that is that the nephrons do not develop well," Mota explains.

"For example, we see some blood flow, but the filtrate (the urine) is not going anywhere." Nephrons are complex. They consist of filters, tubes and a complicated network of blood vessels. All of this must work well together to eventually drain the urine. Mota: “The bioprinting of kidney tissue helps us to put all those elements in the right place. We hope that the stem cells will develop better as a result. ”

What is a nephron again?

Every kidney is made up of a few million filters: the nephrons. Blood purification takes place there. A nephron consists of a kidney filter (glomerulus) and a kidney tube (tubulus). First, blood goes through a sort of sieve. Blood cells and large proteins remain in the blood, water and dissolved substances end up in the nephrons.

 This is for urine. It still contains many useful substances, such as sodium and glucose. These useful substances and much of the water are recovered by the body. What remains is urine; a little bit of water with dissolved waste. This goes through the ureters from the kidneys to the bladder, to leave the body there.

Slow process

Mota gives the stem cells that he wants to bioprint for growth factors to stimulate them to grow into nephron cells. “We are working on refining that process so that as many of those stem cells as possible actually become kidney cells. We are also working on printing the tubes. ”He is currently working with kidney cells from mice to get a good grasp of the bioprinting method.

This is an example of such a printed gel. It offers a 3D structure that resembles that in the kidney, causing the stem cells to mature in kidney cells.
Carlos Mota, Maastricht University

The laboratory work is slow, and it will therefore take years before Mota can make a functional nephron. And once that happens, it still has to be tested outside the laboratory: by implanting it in the kidney of a mouse, for example.

 A completely printed artificial kidney is therefore a dream for the future. Moreover, Mota and his colleague are one of the first in Europe to work on this. Yet he remains motivated. “The kidney is a great organ and so complex that stimulates my curiosity and creativity. My background is in bio-engineering and I have already worked a lot on bioprints. I think it's cool to use this knowledge for this research now. "

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