Advantages and Challenges of 3D Bioprinting
3D bioprinting is an emerging technology with applications across the full spectrum of biomedical research. The technique directly builds on 3D printing technologies using a biological substrate or ‘bioink’, comprised of cells, structural components and growth media, to create 3D biological structures that closely mimic the arrangement of cells in living organisms.
Using the same additive manufacturing model as conventional 3D printing, a computer breaks down a 3D model into a number of 2D slices to print a precise biological structure layer-by-layer with a specific arrangement of cells and tissues.
3D bioprinting presents an opportunity to overcome challenges in regenerative medicine, drug development, cancer treatment and organ donation. As with any emerging technology, researchers are also developing solutions to its own challenges to maximize the potential of this game-changing tool.
Applications of 3D Bioprinting
Researchers are already demonstrating the future potential of 3D bioprinting technology in the biomedical field. One area in which scientists are hoping 3D bioprinting will have an impact is cancer research.
The tumor microenvironment (i.e. not just the cells but the biological substances and structures that surround the tumor) is an important but incompletely understood area of cancer behavior. 2D cell cultures and animal models have been used with some success, but they do not accurately represent the way that human cancer cells behave in vivo, which involves a complex interaction between tumor cells with both other cells and the cellular environment in 3D space.
Research indicates that 3D models better reflect the behavior of tumor cells and bioprinting is an encouraging approach being studied. An advantage of 3D bioprinting over other methods is that cells can be assembled into a 3D model directly with their structural and extracellular components. This differs from alternative approaches which include self-assembly, a much more time-consuming method, or scaffolding, where the support matrix is assembled separately from the cell culture.
Not only does 3D bioprinting offer the opportunity to print specific cell and tissue structures, but the approach can also be patient-specific. A patient’s cells can be biopsied, grown and bioprinted into relevant structures to test for drug response or to tailor a drug dosage to maximize efficacy.
Another major area where 3D bioprinting is expected to flourish is in the field of drug development. Currently most drug testing is done using 2D cell cultures but, as in cancer research, these do not allow cells to behave as they would in nature.
Xenografting (transplantation of human cells) to animals is currently used to help overcome this, but this has limitations due to genetic, biochemical and metabolic differences between the species. It is thought these obstacles could contribute to the high failure rate of new drug candidates, most of which – all but 1 in 5000 – will never make it to market, at great expense to the pharmaceutical industry.
Crucially, using 3D bioprinted cell structures for pharmaceutical testing instead of in vivo studies does not require regulatory approval, potentially multiplying the throughput of drug development.1
Printing 3D structures using multiple types of cell enables researchers to quantitatively study complex biological systems – even those which don’t exist in nature. 3D bioprinting enables the design and construction of miniaturized “organ-on-a-chip” models which can be used for quantitative study of gene expression, protein secretion, metabolism and cell function; as well as drug-delivery systems and pre-clinical pharmaceutical testing.2,3
Perhaps one of the most exciting applications of 3D bioprinting is in regenerative medicine. Researchers are hopeful that bioprinting can be used to directly print tissues such as skin into living patients, and to produce tissues, structures and organs for transplantation. 3D bioprinting has already been successfully used for the production and transplantation of multilayered skin, bone, vascular grafts, tracheal splints, heart tissue and cartilaginous structures.4
In the future, researchers hope that tissues and eventually whole organs could be transplanted to patients built from their own cells. With the help of 3D bioprinting, lengthy donor lists and transplant rejection could become a thing of the past.
As a technology very much in its infancy, 3D bioprinting still has many challenges to overcome before its full potential can be harnessed. An important challenge is the need to minimize the damage to cells during the printing process while also maintaining the structural integrity of the 3D structure. These two goals conflict with each other because the hydrogels typically used in bioinks that protect the cells from shearing forces during the printing process are structurally weak.
Many scientists working in this area are developing their own technology to conduct their research which inevitably detracts from the time available for biological discovery. Additionally, for biologists who do not specialize in this area, the need to familiarize themselves with a new technology could present an obstacle to exploring this emerging and promising field.
In order to address the need for robust, user-friendly and truly versatile 3D bioprinting technology in biomedical research and development, SunP Biotech have developed lines of bioprinters and bioinks that make 3D bioprinting accessible, affordable and accurate. The BIOMAKER is the latest in a line of 3D bioprinters and combines high-performance hardware and intuitive software in a compact desktop unit.
The BIOMAKER offers unparalleled versatility with a variety of modular nozzle systems, allowing operators to print with cells and other media with virtually unlimited biophysical properties. Each nozzle has specialized properties ensuring printing for general and adaptive biomaterials.
Not only does this help to protect the cells while maintaining structural integrity, it also allows the printing of layered tissues that are found in nature, such as the skin. Each one can be temperature adjusted up to 40°C to maintain cell viability during printing. The compact printer also has an integrated HEPA filter and UV sterilization, maintaining a sterile work environment, without the need for a bio-safety cabinet and even has a small enough footprint to fit on the workbench.
SunP Biotech was founded by biomedical experts with the express purpose of eliminating the requirement for researchers to make their own bioprinting equipment. The versatility of their research-grade bioinks and bioprinters such as the BIOMAKER are enabling biomedical researchers around the world to spend less time on sourcing and building equipment and instead focus on what they’re best at.
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2. Bhise, N. S. et al. Organ-on-a-chip platforms for studying drug delivery systems. Journal of Controlled Release (2014). doi:10.1016/j.jconrel.2014.05.004
3. Park, J. Y., Jang, J. & Kang, H. W. 3D Bioprinting and its application to organ-on-a-chip. Microelectron. Eng. (2018). doi:10.1016/j.mee.2018.08.004
4. Murphy, S. V & Atala, A. 3D bioprinting of tissues and organs. Nat. Biotechnol. 32, 773–785 (2014).
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7. Organovo (2015) 3D Cell Culture: Technologies and Global Market, Robert Hunter, ISBN: 1-62296 -006-8, Pharmaceutical Research and Manufacturer of America.
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9. Yao R, et al. Three-dimensional printing: review of application in medicine and hepatic surgery. Cancer Biol Med 2016; doi: 10.20892/j.issn.2095-3941.2016.0075.