Dec 28, 2015 | By Alec

Of all the 3D printing innovations we have seen over the past year, surely medical 3D printing achievements are the most revolutionary. Though 3D printed implants and surgical models have already found their way to hospitals throughout the world, much more work still needs to be done in the field of 3D bioprinting, in which human tissues for implantable organs, blood vessels and more and grown in a laboratory. Fortunately, the academic world also seems to recognize their importance, as 3D printed biomedical innovations featured prominently at the Collegiate Inventors Competition. ‘Eye-on-a-chip’ technology from a team of Penn students, involving 3D printed motorized eyelids that encourage cell regrowth, drew a lot of attention, while the first prize even went to Harvard project 3D Bioprinting Vascularized Human Tissue.

If you’ve never heard of the Collegiate Inventors Competition, you are missing out on some of the technologies of the future. Significant prizes can be won by inventive undergraduate and graduate students from at a wide range of scientific fields (from chemistry to photonics and everything in between), with the competition gathering the best and brightest of an upcoming innovation generation. "The Collegiate Inventors Competition is changing the perception of innovation," argued James West, one of this year’s judges. "These students and their inventions are driving the future of our country and they are redefining the scientist status quo." This year, the team involved 14 finalist teams from across the US.

3D printing was very present during the competition. Though not making the winner’s podium, we were very impressed by a team of graduate students from the University of Pennsylvania and their “eye-on-a-chip” technology, which essentially revolves around 3D printed, motor-driven eyelids. These can be implanted on patient to enable them to blink again, while the exact composition encourages the membranes that allow corneal cells to grow.

This bioengineering innovation consists of small plastic chips with very specific microfluidic channels that, as the team explains on their university’s website, stimulate human cell growth. The environment, they say, mimics the one found in human bodies, and the same principle could theoretically be applied to different organs throughout the body. It was designed by team of graduate students from the School of Engineering and Applied Science, consisting of Cassidy Blundell, Nicholas Perkons, and Jeongyun Seo.

As Jeongyun Seo explains, it also brings an advantage to laboratory work by removing the need for animal or human models. “Our eye-on-a-chip addresses one of the most critical issues in health research: a lack of effective preclinical models for disease modeling,” he says. “Our device has applications in many industries, ranging from pharmaceutical development to consumer product toxicity screening.”

For the project, they worked with the lab of bioengineering processor Dan Huh, who is a specialist in developing synthetic substitutes for biological systems. While Huh was previously successful in developing chip devices for human organs, this eye-on-a-chip has taken that work one step forward by adding a 3D printed, motorized eyelid that simulates blinking. In the future, that 3D printed eyelid will be used to accurately model dry eye disease, the follow-up project.

According to Huh, it’s a real breakthrough that should receive recognition. “It is rewarding to learn that innovation and paradigm-shifting potential of our organ-on-a-chip technology have been recognized by world-renowned inventors and scientists,” Huh says. “We want to demonstrate the possibility of leveraging microengineered physiological organ models to challenge a century-long tradition of using animals as human surrogates in life sciences.”

But of course the real star of the Collegiate Inventors Competition completely revolved around bioprinted tissue. Pioneered by bioengineering student David Kolesky, currently working on his Ph.D. at Harvard, 3D Bioprinting Vascularized Human Tissue received a first prize and $15,000 to expand the research. While a number of studies have already successfully 3D printed human tissue, this particular project is remarkable for keeping the blood vessels alive for longer period of time

According to Kolesky, this tissue 3D bioprinted human tissue can be used for a wide range of medical applications, from creating skin grafts, for creating models for in vitro drug testing before clinical trials (thus removing the need for animal testing), and even for growing cancers in the lab to study growth and treatment reaction patterns. It is hoped that Kolesky’s work will be the tissue breakthrough that has been theorized for decades.



Posted in 3D Printing Application



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