Mini Bioprinted Pancreas to help fight Diabetes

The mini pancreatic tissue © 2021 EPFL / A.Herzog

A team at EPFL has developed a new technology to help fight diabetes: a bioprinter that prints out mini pancreas.

The Pancreas is an organ in the body that helps digestion. It also produces hormones in the body, the most important of which is Insulin. Insulin controls the amount of sugar that is present in the bloodstream. It helps convert the sugar into a storable form so that it can be used by muscles when they work.

Diabetes is a chronic condition that depends on Insulin. Depending on the type of diabetes (1 or 2), the pancreas will either stop producing insulin, or the body will stop responding to it. Both result in severe symptoms that are difficult and tedious to manage. If uncontrolled, diabetes can increase the risk of heart disease, kidney failure, blindness, nerve disease. It is also the second leading cause of amputation.

A Miniature Organ

Recently, EPFL’s Laboratory of Applied Photonics Devices (LAPD) has collaborated with Readily3D to develop a bioprinter that can print out human tissue using stem cells. Using this technology, LAPD has been able to bioprint miniature pancreatic tissue, “blood vessels and all” in only 30 seconds.

“Developing a system that can print 3D tissue at the cubic centimeter-scale and faithfully replicate the functioning of a live pancreas is a huge challenge, which we hope to meet with this technology,” said Christophe Moser, the head of LAPD.

The project is intended towards testing new diabetes medication. These miniature models can also be tailor-made with each patient’s stem cells. According to Damien Loterie, the CEO of Readily3D, this can significantly improve the lives of diabetic patients because “patients won’t have to try out an array of drugs, some of which may have unpleasant side effects, before finding the right one for them,”

The technology works like this: the laboratory collects a patient’s stem cells and adds them to a biological gel. A laser beams through this gel, causing it to solidify in targeted areas that form the desired tissue. According to the statement, the team hopes to be able to bioprint other tissue using this system. Eventually, they may be able to help fight cancer and even develop organs for transplantation.

Paul Delrot, the CTO of Readily3D said: “One of the main advantages of our method is that it can create tissue in a single block, making it particularly useful for printing soft tissue like organs”.


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