Mar 7, 2016 | By Tess
Within the medical world, 3D printing has allowed for some truly revolutionary advancements, such as the manufacturing of custom 3D printed surgical models, 3D printed implants, and made-to-fit 3D printed prosthetics. What is perhaps most exciting about the technology for medical experts, however, is the quickly advancing field of 3D bioprinting, which is allowing for spatially controlled organic cell patterns to be additively manufactured—think of 3D printed organs and organic matter.
The research contributing to the growing field of 3D bioprinting has not only been restricted to professional scientists and researchers, however, as even students have been introduced to the technology and are playing their part in advancing the field. At Rutgers University-Camden in New Jersery, for instance, a team of students working under assistant professor of chemistry, David Salas-de la Cruz, has been working hard to develop bioprinted cellular building blocks that would make up the foundation for other 3D printed organic tissues.
As Salas-de la Cruz explains: “By using this technology, our students are being exposed to the fundamentals of biomedical research. How do the basic building blocks – the chemical structures – interact with each other to tune the material properties? It’s giving Rutgers-Camden students insight into the fundamentals of science.”
Though students at Rutgers-Camden have been working with 3D printing technology for a number of years for other purposes, their 3D bioprinter is a fairly recent acquisition, as the research lab first integrated their BioBots 3D printer in 2015. With its 3D bioprinter the team is working on determining what materials would be best suited to create biocompatible scaffolding.
As Ashley Lewis, a junior majoring in biology and philosophy, says of their work, “We’re interested in using carbohydrate and protein materials such as cellulose and silk to create scaffolding on which organs can grow. You can’t just randomly take cells and make an organ. You have to have some sort of infrastructure so that they will grow, and it’s a nuanced process. We’re taking cellulose, for example, and using it with a solvent like ionic liquid, which can dissolve the cellulose. We want to know what new form it takes, or what new properties it has.”
Salas-de la Cruz’s team is currently working on creating biodegradable scaffolding, meaning that once implanted into the body, the tissue cells within the scaffolding would grow around it, and the scaffold itself would eventually degrade. For this, the team has been working with polysaccharide or protein based biomaterials, which are biodegradable. As Salas-de la Cruz points out, their research is just the beginning and the future potentials of bioprinting are limitless. He says, “As research continues, the creation of these renewable biomaterials is becoming more common and the technology can be used to create nerve connections and heart valves. It’s amazing.”
For the students of the lab, this research opportunity has given them not only insight into one of the field’s most relevant technological advancements, but also the skills necessary to continue their research and development of 3D bioprinting after graduation. As Chris Cherfane, a senior biology major from Cherry Hill, points out, “Getting exposed to this technology now and being able to use it now gives us access to something that can really stretch us beyond what we were capable of before in terms of the research we do.”
“I want this to allow the students to explore on their own,” adds Salas-de la Cruz. “That’s all part of research and discovery and carving out a path through experimentation. It fosters new ideas and innovation. I want to see where it goes. I want to open their minds to possibilities.”
Introducing the technology to the students in college will surely give them the building blocks to continue creating organic 3D bioprinted building blocks. And who knows, perhaps in the near future we’ll hear of one of Salas-de la Cruz’s students having successfully bioprinted a functional human organ.
Posted in 3D Printing Application
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