3D printing aids stem cell research into equine fractures

© Emma Hodgson

3D printing is allowing scientists from the Animal Health Trust and the University of East Anglia to advance their work into preventing fractures in horses.

In the collaborative project, scientists have made 3D printed scaffolds that can be used to turn induced pluripotent stem (iPS) cells into bone in the laboratory.

iPS cells are created by ‘reprogramming’ an adult cell, such as a skin cell, to turn back into a stem cell state where they can grow forever in the lab and turn into any cell type of the body.

“They could, therefore, produce a wide variety of cells to help replace injured and damaged tissues in regenerative medicine approaches,” said Dr Debbie Guest, Head of Stem Cell Research.

Bone fractures occur commonly in horses through traumatic injuries and bone overloading. Severe fractures can be difficult to treat due to a horse’s need to bear weight on all of its limbs. Surgical approaches to fracture repair are constantly improving and bone grafting is often carried out in human patients to help the repair of the fracture site.

But the harvesting of bone from another site can have catastrophic consequences and it is not commonly used in horses.

In work funded by the Petplan Charitable Trust, Paul Mellon Foundation and the Anne Duchess of Westminster Charitable Trust, a scaffold was produced that enabled horse iPS cells to be turned into bone to provide a 3D structure. The scaffold material is inexpensive and can be printed to any size or shape, treated to encourage the attachment of cells to its surface and it is transparent, which allowed the scientists to see what was happening to the stem cells over time and determine that they turned into bone cells.

“This work paves the way towards the laboratory production of bone constructs that could be used to aid fracture repair in horses; so could ultimately benefit many horses in the future,” Guest said.

Biocompatible Three-Dimensional Printed Thermoplastic Scaffold for Osteoblast Differentiation of Equine Induced Pluripotent Stem Cells. Arabella Baird, Noelia Dominguez Falcon, Aram Saeed, and Deborah Jane Guest. Tissue Engineering Part C: Methods, Vol.25, No.5 https://doi.org/10.1089/ten.tec.2018.0343

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