For nearly three decades, scientists have been dedicated to unraveling the mysteries of creating human organs through lab-grown cells. A significant stride towards this ambitious goal is being made by Erin Bedford and her team at Aspect Biosystems, a Vancouver-based company pioneering a groundbreaking 3D printing process that utilizes human pancreas cells to address Type 1 diabetes.

Erin Bedford, now at the helm of bioprinting innovation, joined Aspect Biosystems in 2018 as one of its first employees. Armed with a freshly earned doctorate in nanotechnology from the University of Waterloo, Bedford sought a practical application for her expertise. She found the prospect of applying nanotechnology to replace and repair bodily functions through 3D-printed tissue immensely exciting, especially given its potential to address a significant and unmet medical need.

Type 1 diabetes, an autoimmune disease inhibiting the pancreas from producing insulin, affects an estimated 8.4 million people worldwide. The current cure involves implanting pancreatic tissue from a deceased donor, subjecting patients to prolonged waiting lists and a lifetime reliance on potent anti-rejection drugs post-implantation.

Bedford and her team at Aspect Biosystems had an early revelation—they didn’t need to construct an entire pancreas. Their focus shifted to creating engineered pancreatic tissues that produce insulin, designed to elude detection by the immune system. Central to this revolutionary technology is a fluid containing pancreatic cells derived from stem cells, combined with other biomaterials and a substantial amount of water. This mixture is systematically pumped through a printer, layer by layer, resulting in the formation of insulin-producing tissues ready for implantation anywhere in the body.

The efficacy of bioprinted tissues as a potential cure for Type 1 diabetes has already been demonstrated in rats, and Bedford anticipates human trials to commence in the near future. In a significant show of support for this cutting-edge technology, Aspect Biosystems secured a $75 million investment and collaboration agreement with Novo Nordisk in April.

“We are exploring and pushing the limits of what this technology can do,” Bedford states, highlighting Aspect’s ongoing efforts to extend the application of the technology beyond diabetes. The company is actively working on developing a method to bioprint liver tissues, showcasing the versatile potential of their groundbreaking approach to 3D printing in the realm of regenerative medicine.

By Impact Lab