2016 research profile: Brain tissues on demand

3D bioprinting of neural tissue from human pluripotent stem cells
PI: Stephanie Willerth, University of Victoriawillerthsm

It may sound like science fiction, but the research of Stephanie Willerth of the University of Victoria is proving to be anything but. A patient’s adult cells will be reprogrammed back into their stem cell state, where they can develop into any type of tissue. The stem cells will then be used to create living human neural tissue through a 3D printing platform, so that it can then be screened for potential drug candidates to treat the patient’s disease – a new advance in the concept of personalized medicine.

Aspect Biosystems is already commercializing a process to print cells on demand using bioink, the material that surrounds the cells, on its patented microfluidic-based 3D printer technology. Now Dr. Willerth’s project will take that technology a step further. Her research has two goals: to determine a suitable and stable fibrin (a protein that plays a role in blood coagulation) bioink formulation for printing stem cell-derived neural cell progenitors; and to use the bioink to print neural tissues on Aspect Biosystem’s 3D bioprinting platform. Aspect Biosystems will provide support for protecting the intellectual property generated through this project and assist in its commercialization. The model can then be licensed to pharmaceutical companies to use for drug-screening applications.

Dr. Willerth is one of a new generation of stem cell researchers in Canada, recognized as a Canada Research Chair and a Young Innovator in Molecular and Cellular Bioengineering. Aspect Biosystems was recognized as the “Most Promising Startup” at the BC Tech Association’s 2016 Technology Impact Awards.

Stephanie Willerth’s project is part of The Impact Research Agreement Program which will provide $1.54M for 17 projects that span clinical translation, commercialization and public policy.  A total of 27 investigators (17 Principal Investigators & 10 Co-investigators) at 15 research institutions will benefit and more than 60 trainees will be engaged. Diseases such as diabetes, osteoarthritis, and kidney disease will all be studied. Commercialization topics include 3D printing of neural tissues, and the scalable production of engineered micro tissues.

For more information on the Stem Cell Network’s 2016 research funding results click here