This is a bird’s-eye view of a microwell plate containing kidney organoids that were produced from human stem cells by a robotic system. The yellow boxed region is shown at higher magnification to reveal individual organoids. Red, green and yellow colors mark distinct segments of 3-D kidney tissue. (UW Medicine Photo / Freedman Lab)
Good news, everybody: Robots can now create human mini-organs from stem cells. What could possibly go wrong?
The method may sound like a nightmare from HBO’s AI thriller “WestWorld,” but researchers from the University of Washington School of Medicine say it really is good news.
“This is a new ‘secret weapon’ in our fight against disease,” Benjamin Freedman, a medical researcher at the UW Institute for Stem Cell and Regenerative Medicine and the Kidney Research Institute, said in a news release.
The robotic system could accelerate the production and use of organ tissues that don’t have to be cut out of an actual human but are nevertheless suitable for research and drug discovery. The system is described in a study published online today in the journal Cell Stem Cell.
Human organ tissue is traditionally grown for biomedical experiments from stem cells in flat, two-dimensional sheets. That method doesn’t accurately reflect the structure of the organs being grown, however, so researchers are working on ways to grow the cells into more complex 3-D mini-organs.
The mini-organs — technically known as organoids — come closer to the full function of the organ being studied, but they’re tougher to grow in mass production. So the logical step is to send in the robots.
Freedman and his colleagues built a system that uses liquid-handling robots to place stem cells into plates that contain as many as 384 miniature wells each. The cells are then coaxed to turn into kidney organoids over the course …read more