Dec 17, 2015 | By Kira
As we already know, 3D bioprinting is a subset of 3D printing technology that is saving lives, and with ongoing development into promising areas, including 3D printing ‘living’ blood vessels, has the potential to completely change how we approach medicine. However, as we also know, the human body is incredibly complex—it’s not just a matter of depositing some cells into a petri dish and waiting for them to sprout up. Recreating human tissue, bones, and eventually functional organs requires a careful combination of human cells, biogels and other bioink materials, and must take into consideration oxygen, nutrients, and sterile, heated enclosures that can keep the tissue alive. None of this comes cheap, either. Take a look at our Top 20 3D Bioprinters of 2015 roundup, and you’ll see that many (though not all) of the available options are either exclusively available to research partners, or cost upwards of $100,000 to $200,000.
In an effort to develop a 3D bioprinter that is affordable, reliable, and multi-material capable, Jemma Redmond and Stephen Gray took matters into their own hands, combining their expertise in biochemistry and nano-bioscience, as well as a deeply personal motivation to come to understand the human body.
The result is the Ourobotics Revolution 3D Bioprinter, a relatively low-cost machine that can print with 10 materials in the same bioprinted structure (with the potential to add even more). It also includes a heated enclosure and an upgradable and expandable design. The bioprinter is already available for pre-order, and because of its modularity, current applications include everything from human tissue engineering, to pharmaceuticals, food, synthetic biology, electronics, batteries and even textiles.
Redmond came into 3D bioprinting through her studies in applied physics and a Master’s in nano-bioscience. Her thesis involved growing fingers bones to see how the patterns changed the cell growth. She built her first bioprinters on her kitchen table, and these early attempts at tissue engineering gave her strong insight into the needs of the industry. Throughout university, she funded herself through personal business ventures in order to continue building bioprinters and experiment with models of tumors in gelatine, arteries, reproductive tissues, and eventually a fetus (no cells were used). With additional funding, she was able to bioprint in liquid, mimicking in vivo conditions and creating a sort of ‘mechanical womb’. She and her research team were eventually funded by SOSV and went all to the way to China to build four bioprinters within four months, including one with a robotic arm.
As for Ourobotics co-founder Stephen Gray, he is a bioengineering PhD at the Imperial College London and part-time visiting lecturer with Innovation Design Engineering, based between the Dyson School of Engineering and the Royal College of Art. With his background in regenerative medicine and biochemistry, he was able to approach the bioprinting project from a synthetic biology and bioengineering point of view.
The Ourobotics Revolution’s true revolution in terms of 3D bioprinting is its ability to print with up to 10 materials in a single bioprinted structure, although Redmond said that in theory, any number of materials could be added. “Essentially, the machine is able to retool itself so it has its own hand and so it can grab different tools, and that could be anything really, from laser to UV to regular 3D printing,” she explained to 3Ders.org. It can currently print a wide variety of gel-like materials, such as collagen, gelatin, alginates, and chitosan, but really, that is just the beginning.
The Revolution 3D bioprinter also features a heated enclosure to keep cells alive, and, because of its hand-like retooling system, it can be upgraded and adapted to users needs. “Literally you could build more complicated tissues for electronics, combine organic with inorganic, create custom pills or medication and then mass produce…” she said. “We will build tools and systems based on what our users want, not what we think they want!”
The second major revolution is the price-point. Currently, the 3D bioprinter’s price is set at €12,500 or roughly $13,600 USD. When asked how they were able to keep the costs so low? “An awful lot of lateral thinking and hardware and software hacking. Doing things that aren’t supposed to work, yet do.”
The Ourobotics Revolution 3D biorprinter is already available for preorder, and Redmond has said they have already had a number of signups. Their main clients come from the academic and medical community, however fashion designers, artists, and biohackers have also shown interest.
Though the Ourobotics Revolution is clearly filling an industry-wide demand for low-cost, multi-material 3D bioprinters, Redmond has revealed that she also has a deeply personal motivation for her dedicated research in 3D bioprinting and for developing this system. Not too long ago, she learned that she was born with a DSD—difference of sex development. “On finding this out…I wanted to find a way to repair my body or give me back my choices and to provide the same for others like me,” she said. “In a way it’s a form of catharsis, for some people writing or painting helps, but for me it’s solving complex problems.”
“Because I’ve had to learn as much as I can (and continue to do so) about biology with regards to printing cells and tissue engineering, it’s also been helpful in me beginning to understand my own biology. It’s made me come to understand that nature is not black and white or grey even but many different colours and many different variations. I've learnt that most of what we assume to be true is simply not true. Children born with DSds / Intersex variations are generally fine until they've had surgeries... it’s society that has a problem with anyone born different, I guess thats really what needs fixing. I'm hoping that my work can help restore / give people back options. Its not just about intersex people, its for anyone where current medical technology simply cannot help.”
Ourobotics is one of many 3D bioprinting companies working hard to advance the technology for life-saving and life-changing purposes. However, in crossing the threshold of available bioprinting materials, and given the team’s combined expertise and unquestionable passion, they seem have chosen a very apt name for their Revolution.
Posted in 3D Printer
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