Is 3D Bioprinting the next revolution in science?

Twenty years from now, failed organs will be easily replaced by new ones without the need to wait for a transplantable and compatible organs. Transplant wait lists will be a thing of the past. You can get your organ made for you using your own cells. How does this sound? Can this be done? YES! The answer is 3D BIOPRINTING!!

 

3D Bioprinting is a process similar to 3D printing – it uses a file to print objects layer on layer, the only difference being that we are dealing with actual HUMAN CELLS!

 

3D Bioprinting is the technology of the future. It has shown huge potential, today, in the fields of diagnostics, testing and minor clinical applications and, in the coming years, this technology will have the capability to create fully functional 3D BIOPRINTED human organs. Yes! Organs that can be made within bioprinter in a lab anywhere around the world.

Innoskin® HE developed by Next Big Innovation Labs ©NBIL

As of January 2019, 113000 men, women and children were on the US national transplant waiting list. 36,528 transplants were performed in 2018 and around 20 people die everyday waiting for a transplant! In India, as per a 2017 survey conducted by the Times of India, 5,000 annual renal transplants are conducted for an annual renal transplant wait list of 1,75,000, 700 annual liver transplants are done for an annual liver transplant wait list of 50,000 and 30 annual cardiac transplants are carried out for an annual cardiac wait list of 50,000. With organ donation drives conducted around the country, the number of transplants conducted has increased but it is nowhere close to bridging the ever widening abyss between transplantable organ demand and availability. There is one technology that has shown great promise to bridge this gap between availability and demand of organs – 3D Bioprinting.

3D Bioprinting is the artificial creation of tissues of interest using a 3D Bioprinter. The technology uses a bio-ink, that comprises of biomaterials, growth factors and human cells which are organ specific (skin cells, liver cells etc), to print scaffolds. The cells of interest are cultivated in the lab until they reach a target population, which would be enough to create a bio-ink. Scaffolds are three dimensional skeletal structures that mimic the extracellular matrix and facilitate cellular adhesion, migration and proliferation. 

 

A number of things about the world of bioprinting still remain unknown to a large audience. To make it simple – lets figure out how bioprinting works…

 

It all starts with a bioprinter. Majorly there are 3 different kinds of bioprinters which are being used today for all the bioprinting research – namely, extrusion based bioprinter which uses an external pressure to print a bioink from the nozzle to build 3D structures; an ink-jet bioprinter a technique capable of contact-less and contact dispensing to construct scaffolds and laser-based bioprinters which use weak focussed beams and focussed laser pulses to deposit the bioink droplets.

 

Bioinks are a mix of materials which mimic the extracellular matrix environment to support the adherence, growth and differentiation of living cells. The natural or synthetic polymers provide support and nutrients to mature. Few of the natural polymers in use being – collagen, alginate, fibrin, chitosan and synthetic polymers being Poly (ethylene glycol), Poly(lactide-co-glycolide), Poly(ε-caprolactone).

3D Bioprinting might sound very fascinating but there are a lot of technicalities that go behind getting a perfectly printed scaffold. The entire bioprinting process can be split into 3 main stages – pre processing, printing and post-processing. The first stage majorly includes the selection of right biomaterials – natural, synthetic or a combination of both. The biomaterials chosen should be close to the extra cellular matrix, once chosen the rheological properties and printability needs to be fixed.

The next stage is 3d bioprinting, here we have to maintain the properties of the bioink such that the mechanical stresses do not tamper with the cell viability. The printed scaffold provides a framework or a skeletal structure for the cells to grow in. Crosslinking is one of the most crucial steps, here one has to choose a crosslinker which will crosslink the scaffold without affecting the cell viability.

 

 Scaffolds are then placed in media and then kept in an incubator to maintain optimal physiological conditions. Natural processes take over from here, the cells start digesting the scaffold and secrete their proteins. These proteins form key elements of the extra-cellular matrix, which holds the cells together within a tissue. Over the period of incubation, the scaffold slowly vanishes and a thin layer of cells and extra-cellular matrix starts to take shape. Finally, the tissue is completely formed with the cells, proteins and extra-cellular matrix in place.

NBIL's trade secret Bioink ©NBIL
Scanning Electron Microscopy Image of a scaffold developed by NBIL
Bioprinting using 80 µm needles ©NBIL
High Throughput 3D Bioprinting in 384 well plates using Trivima ©NBIL
NBIL's Trivima 3D Bioprinter at Merck, Darmstadt ©NBIL

3D Bioprinting is a discipline that can provide solutions for a diverse array of research and clinical challenges. It comes with a lot of promises and challenges at the same time. The technology demands a culmination of three disciplines – Engineering, Material Science and Biotechnology. Command over all three aspects of this technology can provide an impetus towards the solutions offered by 3D Bioprinting.

Author - Anubha Mehra

Anubha handles marketing, IP and regulatory activities within Next Big Innovation Labs. She is an experienced marketeer who focusses on building customer oriented marketing strategies for biotech led enterprises. Working on the IP and regulatory aspects of NBIL, Anubha understands the various nuances involved in building and marketing patentable and innovative products.