MRRF: 3D Bioprinting

bioprint

There were a few keynotes at this year’s Midwest RepRap festival, and somewhat surprisingly most of the talks weren’t given by the people responsible for designing your favorite printer. One of the most interesting talks was given by [Jordan Miller], [Andy Ta], and [Steve Kelly] about the use of RepRap and other 3D printing technologies in biotechnology and tissue engineering. Yep, in 50 years when you need a vital organ printed, this is where it’ll come from.

[Jordan] got his start with tissue engineering and 3D printing with his work in printing three-dimensional sugar lattices that could be embedded in a culture medium and then dissolved. The holes left over from the sugar became the vasculature and capillaries that feed a cell culture. The astonishing success of his project and the maker culture prompted him and others to start the Advanced Manufacturing Research Institute to bring young makers into the scientific community. It’s a program hosted by Rice University and has seen an amazing amount of success in both research and getting makers into scientific pursuits.

One of these young makers is [Andy Ta]. An economics major, [Andy] first heard of the maker and RepRap community a few years ago and bought a MakerBot Cupcake. This was a terrible printer, but it did get him involved in the community, hosting build workshops, and looking into 3D printing build around DLP-cured UV resin. At AMRI, [Andy] started looking at the properties of UV-cured resin, figuring out the right type of light, resin, and exposure to create a cured resin with the right properties for printing cell colonies. You can check out [Andy]‘s latest work on his webzone.

[Steve Kelly] has also done some work at AMRI, but instead of the usual RepRap or DLP projector-based printers, he did work with shooting cell cultures out of an ink jet print head. His initial experiments involved simply refilling an ink jet cartridge with a bacterial colony and discovering the cells actually survived the process of being heated and shot out of a nozzle at high speed. Most ink jets printers don’t actually lay out different colors on a precise grid, making it unusable for growing cell cultures. [Steve] solved this problem with an inkjet controller shield attached to a RepRap. All of [Steve]‘s work is documented on his Github.

It’s all awesome work, and the beginnings of both bioengineering based on 3D printers, and an amazing example of what amateur scientists and professional makers can do when they put their heads together. Video link below.

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Build a bioprinter from very old inkjet cartridges

bioprinting

This column of messages was printed with Escherichia coli. That’s the bacteria better known as E. coli which can cause so many problems if it makes its way into our food. But the relative size and the fact that this strain was engineered to glow in the dark makes it a perfect candidate for Bio Printing. We find it even more interesting that it was printed using hacked inkjet and computer parts.

There are legitimate uses for this type of technology. But this project is aimed more at getting the word out about the method and how easy it can be. For us, it’s the close look at modern inkjet print heads that was the most interesting. It turns out that common cartridges have an overly high-resolution for this to work well. In order to get so many dots in such a small area the nozzle openings end up being too small for most biological material to fit through. There is also an issue with a filter built into the silicone technology inside.

The solution was to use the InkShield to drive cartridges from very old printers. This lets the team command the cartridge with an Arduino, making it dead simple to tweak the way the material is deposited. They mounted the cartridge holder (using decades-old technology in the form of HP Deskjet 500 cartridges) on the sled of an optical drive and went from there.

Take a glance at the printer in action in the clip after the break.

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Printing organs with a 3D printer

[Jordan Miller], [Christopher Chen], and a whole bunch of other researchers at the department of bioengineering at U Penn have figured out a way to print 3D tissues using a 3D printer. In this case, a RepRap modified to print sugar.

Traditional means of constructing living 3D tissues face a problem – in a living body, there’s a whole bunch of vasculature sending Oxygen and nutrients to the interior cells. In vitro, these nutrients can’t get to the cells in the core of a mass of tissue. [Jordan], [Chris], et al. solved this problem by printing a three-dimensional sugar lattice. After encasing this lattice in a gel embedded with living cells, the sugar can be dissolved and the nutrients pumped through the now hollow capillaries in the gel.

If you have access to Nature, the full text article is available here. There’s also a great video showing off this technique after the break.

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