Rousselot Biomedical has joined the Enlight project, through which European researchers are aiming to develop a living model of the pancreas to enable better testing of diabetes medication. The model is manufactured using a method of bioprinting invented at the UMC Utrecht and EPFL, and specialised stem cells studied by ETH Zurich and the University of Naples.
With eight European partners, the project aims to develop a bioprinter that, using visible light, prints stem cells three-dimensionally into functional pancreatic tissues. The project has received a 4-year grant of $4.37 m from the European Innovation Council Fund Horizon 2020 and aims to realise a first working tissue model within three years.
Led by the UMC Utrecht, the consortium comprises Ecole Polytechnique Federale de Lausanne, Readily 3D and ETH Zürich (Switzerland), the University of Naples Federico II and Fondazionne Giannino Bassetti (Italy), AstraZeneca (Sweden), Rousselot (Belgium).
Rousselot’s role will be to create an visible light induced, cross-linkable extracellular matrix (ECM) like hydrogel mimicking the pancreas structure using X-Pure. X-Pure gelatins are suitable for 3D bioprinting and tissue engineering, the company claims, owing to guaranteed ultra-low impurity levels and tunable physical/chemical properties. “The topo- and geometrical cues and composition provided by the ECM together with morphogens and biochemical signals are important determinants of cell fate in vitro and in vivo. In other words, the design and purity of the ECM like structure is a crucial part of the Enlight project”, said Jos Olijve, Scientific Support Manager and project contact from Rousselot.
The use of tissue from a 3D bioprinter has a number of major advantages when testing drugs, the consortium says. These models are hoped to eliminate the need for animal testing, accelerate drug discovery for pharmaceutical industries, and reduce the burden on individual patients. Riccardo Levato, Biofabrication Researcher at the UMC Utrecht and coordinator of Enlight said: “With cells from a patient, practitioners can recreate the diseased tissue. Subsequently, a laboratory test can be performed to determine which candidate medication has the greatest effect. This spares patients a long search with unpleasant side effects, saves on treatment costs, and leads to the best available care for individual patients.’’
Levato continued: “If you want to fabricate pancreatic tissue, the 3D model has to look and function like a pancreas. We want to achieve this in the printing phase by adding signaling molecules, which tell the cells stimulated by the printer, how to behave.”
The project aims to create a living model of the pancreas, including hormonal functions, in four years. In the longer term, the researchers hope to address the shortage of donor organs for transplantation and regenerative medicine.