Apr 17, 2018 | By David

We’ve reported before on the pioneering 3D printing work of researchers based at Carnegie Mellon University, including electronics projects, 3D printed robotics, and even 3D printing with textiles. Their latest breakthrough is the development of a new 3D bio-printer, made by modifying a regular desktop FDM machine. This is one of the most accessible and affordable pieces of bio-printing equipment ever produced, and the team has also released their designs online for other people to build their own systems.

The project was carried out by researchers from the Materials Science and Engineering (MSE) and Biomedical Engineering departments: Associate Professor Adam Feinberg, BME postdoctoral fellow TJ Hinton, and Kira Pusch, a recent graduate of the MSE undergraduate program. They detailed their work in a paper ''Large volume syringe pump extruder for desktop 3D printers'', which was published in the journal HardwareX.

The team’s 3D bio-printer is basically a desktop FDM 3D printer, with the regular extruder replaced by a large-volume syringe pump extruder (LVE). Whereas most 3D bio-printing systems cost between $10,000 and $20,000, the Carnegie Mellon researchers put theirs together for just $500. As well as the huge reduction in cost, another advantage is that their approach can be adapted for use on any FDM machine, as well as modified as the user sees fit. Existing bio-printers on the market tend to rely on proprietary software and technology, and their designs are rarely open-source.

''It’s really about democratizing technology and trying to get it into more people’s hands,'' explains Feinberg.

Their affordable 3D bio-printer doesn’t sacrifice on quality, with a level of detail that is comparable to more expensive commercially available bio-printers. It can also print artificial human tissue on a larger scale and at higher resolution.

''Usually there’s a trade-off,'' explains Feinberg, ''because when the systems dispense smaller amounts of material, we have more control and can print small items with high resolution, but as systems get bigger, various challenges arise. The LVE 3-D bioprinter allows us to print much larger tissue scaffolds, at the scale of an entire human heart, with high quality.''

The team tested out their new LVE on a Printrbot Simple Metal 3D printer. They successfully printed using alginate, a common biomaterial used for 3-D printing projects. The researchers also experimented with the system and their own Freeform Reversible Embedding of Suspended Hydrogels (FRESH) technique. FRESH makes use of a special support bath material, which enables soft bio-materials to be printed into specific structures with a higher level of precision.

The team’s next step will be to carry out more biomedical research projects that will be freely available to other researchers. According to Feinberg, ''We envision this as being the first of many technologies that we push into the open source environment to drive the field forward... It’s something we really believe in.''

The increased accessibility of bio-printing that their new approach has enabled will mean that, if all their research is also made open-source, other labs will be able to expand on it. This will increase innovation and lead to the faster development of new, potentially life-saving technologies.


(all images, video: Carnegie Mellon)




Posted in Printing Technology



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Ian Coll McEachern wrote at 6/26/2018 7:17:23 PM:

Hello! This is Ian over at Bioprinters Inc (www.bioprintersinc.com) When looking to make our own we noticed that there wasn't anywhere where folks could buy a kit of this Bioprinter so we decided to make kits available to anyone who may want one. Thank you and happy printing!

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