The latest 3D organ printing technology might be able to reproduce biological tissue or a human organ to solve current organ transplant rejection problems and cancer cells could be “tamed” to become normal stable cells in the future, National Science Council (NSC) researchers said.
At a press conference last week called to introduce the council’s “2011 Science Season: Technologies of the Future” exhibition, which includes a section on “Future Medical Care,” exhibition project co-director Shy Sheng-yang (施聖洋) said: “Future medical care will not be stressing the cure for diseases, but focused on how to take care of the body and soul with the help of medical technology.”
Shy, a professor at the National Central University’s Department of Mechanical Engineering, said that by combining preventive, clinical and rehabilitative medicine with the newest technology, future medical care would look after a patient through the stages of pre-disease, disease and recovery.
Academia Sinica Genomics Research Center assistant research fellow Shen Chia-ning (沈家寧), who led the 3D organ printing research team, said the technology works by scanning a 3D image of the organ and taking stem cells from the patient to engineer biomaterials that serve as the “ink” for printing, then assembling thousands of 2D prints layer over layer to create a 3D organ.
Shen said the biggest obstacle in developing this technology is learning how to control the division of the stem cells into diverse specialized cell types that can form a functioning 3D organizational structure.
At present, only simple body tissues such as veins have been successfully printed, but researchers believe that simple organs could be replicated in a decade, and complex organs such as the liver could be printed in two or three decades when the technology is fully developed, Shen said, adding that a working bladder has already been printed by a US research team and proved functional for at least three months.
Meanwhile, Chien Chung--liang (錢宗良), section convener and a professor at National Taiwan University’s Department of Anatomy and Cell Biology, led a research team in trying to “tame” cancerous stem cells into stable nerve cells that won’t divide into other cells (through mitosis) as a way to control malignant tumors.
“What I often tell my students is that cancer stem cells and normal stem cells differ in our controlability of its growth. Those [cells] that we don’t know what they will grow into, or that grow out of control, are called cancer,” Chien said.
Cancer stem cells function like stem cells in having self-renewal features that can reproduce cancer cells rapidly and are more resistant to radiation therapy or chemotherapy, Chien said.
The team said the efficacy rate in the current experimental stage is about 20 percent to 30 percent, and that nerve cells are relatively stable and easier to control, but more research has to be done to understand which compounds can induce the cancer stem cells to divide into healthy cells.
The free exhibition will be held at National Chiang Kai-shek Memorial Hall for six weeks and opens on Friday.
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