In March 2019, a team of Polish researchers achieved a bioprinting breakthrough with the creation of the first 3D printed prototype of a vascularized bionic pancreas. The achievement, enabled by cutting-edge technologies such as CELLINK’s Bio X 3D printer, marked an important step in the three-year project undertaken by Poland’s Fundacja Badan Rozwoju Nauki (Foundation for Research and Science Development).
In a recent update on the project, the researchers revealed that the bioprinted bionic pancreas, made up exclusively of animal pancreatic islets producing glucagon and insulin, has done well in evaluations. Post-printing, the organ was placed in a custom active flow-connected bioreactor for culturing and evaluation.
At this stage, the Fundacja scientists have already done magnetic resonance imaging tests and performed CT scans to visualize and evaluate the internal structure of the pancreas prototype. The results so far have shown that the vascular system inside the bionic organ perfectly matches how it was designed.
The positive evaluation means the bionic pancreas project is on track to move into two stages of animal studies this year: one for small animals and one for large animals. These tests will offer valuable insight into how the bioink and bionic pancreas will react and behave inside a living organism. The Polish lab is also currently in the process of patenting its bioprinting process and is seeking partners to assist in the commercialization and marketing of its products.
The bioprinting initiative is co-financed by the polish National Centre for Research and Development within the STRATEGMED III program. The overall aim of the project is to create a bioprinted pancreas derived from a patient’s own stem cells, reducing and even eliminating the risk of implant rejection.
The process consists of extracting stem cells from a patient which can then be multiplied and converted into alpha and beta cells capable of producing glucagon and insulin. These cells function as a building block for pancreatic islets and can be mixed with a proprietary bioink. This material, placed within a bioprinter cartridge, is used to produce the pancreatic scaffold structure.
Another cartridge in the bioprinter is filled with elements that can build up the vascular system. Presently, the smallest blood vessels that the researchers can print have a diameter of about 1 mm, though scientists believe that smaller vessels will develop independently “under the influence of certain factors” in the bioink. In other words, the team is working to stimulate angiogenesis so that the bionic organ can integrate itself into the body once implanted.
If the bionic pancreas project continues to be a success, it could eventually lead to human transplants for treating diabetes. The patient-specific bioprinted organ could offer a number of benefits. For one, the ability to create a custom implant would alleviate organ wait times. Additionally, because the bionic organs would be built from the patient’s own cells, the risk of rejection would be reduced, lessening the risk of transplantation. Finally, the bionic pancreas could reduce healthcare expenses currently associated with treating diabetes.