Jan.25, 2013

BioCurious is a hackerspace, working laboratory and technical library located in Sunnyvale, CA. Not like many other hackerspaces, BioCurious is a hackerspace for biotech. "We believe that innovations in biology should be accessible, affordable, and open to everyone."

BioCurious' latest project is to build a DIY Bio 3D printer. Bioprinting is printing with biological materials. Big companies like Organovo focuses mainly on printing living tissue and replacement organs, as well as doing drug testing and transplantation, but they are unaccessible and expensive. BioCurious wants to make a change and they decided to start a BioPrinter Community Project to build this technology themselves.



The team started with hacking an abandoned HP 5150 inkjet printer for use as a bioprinter. Immediately they got a problem: current inkjet printers are too high resolution! The nozzles are around 23 microns in diameter, too small for a eukaryotic cell. They might still be able to print much smaller E. coli cells or yeast cells with this print head, but not eukaryotic cell. In addition if the team decided to stick with the existing printer drivers they will have very little control over exactly what the print head does.

Luckily they found Nicholas Lewis' DIYable inkjet platform on Kickstarter to build Inkshield: An Open Source Inkjet Shield for Arduino. InkShield is designed to print labels on things like cabling. The actual nozzles are only about 85 micron, which is just perfect for printing biomaterials.

For keeping the cost low, the team tried to scavenge parts from old CD drives. Surprisingly the total materials cost of building such a 3D bio printer was only about $150, including two laser head slider mechanism with stepper motors, One InkShield kit, Arduino Uno, two SN754410NE H-Bridge motor drivers, Wires, screws etc.

The first printing test with live E.coli cells went pretty well! Even though the letter were bit fuzzy but it was perfect for a first try. They noted some improvement for their next experiment, such as adapting some of the RAMPS (RepRap Arduino MEGA Pololu Shield) technology, sourcing new stepper motors, laser cutting a frame, using double print head or even starting with a 3D printer.

(Images: Patrik D'haeseleer)

With a DIY 3D bioprinter BioCurious can work more with plant cells. Here are their ideas:

- Print gradients of nutrients and/or antibiotics on a layer of cells to study combinatorial interactions - or even to select different isolates from an environmental sample.
- Print patterns of growth factors on a layer of eukaryotic cells to study cell differentiation.
- Print two or more microbial species at different distances from each other, to study metabolic interactions.
- Set up a computational problem as a 2D pattern of engineered microbes on an agar plate.
- Study Reaction-Diffusion systems
- Print 3D structures by over-printing layers using the inkjet head. Now you can consider doing all the above in 3D!
- Print cell in a sodium alginate solution, onto a surface soaked in calcium chloride, to build up 3D gel structures (similar to spherification process in Molecular Gastronomy)

Patrik D'haeseleer at the BioCurious lab, a computational biologist documented the building process on Instructables. Check it out here. If you want to know it in one minute, watch the video below Patrick explaining the mechanisms for the new bioprinter.

 


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