3D bioprinting technology startup, BioBots, is seeking to disrupt the nascent field of bioprinting with its new printer for 3D living tissue creation. At only USD$5,000 per printer, I would say they are off to a pretty good start.
3D bioprinting is not new: It began in the mid-1990s. Recently, many bioprinting efforts talk about the technology as a way to speed up the government requirements for getting a new drug to market.
Prescription drugs come at a high cost, to consumers all the way up to the federal government, with many factors contributing, but one of the largest expenses is for a pharmaceutical company to complete the FDA approval process. After all the effort, with more than $50 billion spent on research and development annually, only one in 5,000 drugs will make it to market and a big piece of the challenge or problem is related to animal testing.
Image courtesy of BioBots
Enter BioBots, a small team from the University of Pennsylvania, with a new 3D bioprinter called the BioBot 1, which they believe is the bioprinting equivalent of the PC. This low-cost, desktop bioprinter, gives big and small companies or institutions (such as university research labs), a chance to develop 3D organ models with human cells in their own lab.
I heard about the bioprinter and reached out to CEO and co-founder Danny Cabrera to see if we could talk about their invention. He was quick to respond, his passion for solving this big problem evident in our conversation: “If we could somehow reveal the failures before testing drugs on people, we would be able to identify false positives much earlier in the drug development process. The problem is in animal testing – mice are not humans, and tests on animals often fail to mimic human diseases or predict how the human body responds to new drugs.”
According to Cabrera, that’s where 3D bioprinting technology comes in, allowing researchers to create tissues with software that instructs a printer to deposit groups of cells in precise layers, which are intermixed with a hydrogel that binds the cells together, ultimately creating 3D functional tissues out of human cells.
The BioBot is similar to the fused-deposition modeling (FDM) 3D printers such as the MakerBot or PrintrBots you see today that melt plastic filament via a hot extruder. Their printer uses cells and materials that your body can handle and does not “melt” anything since the heat would kill the cells.
Dr. Stuart Williams, director of the Cardiovascular Innovation Institute with its Bioficial Organs Program, a partnership between Jewish Hospital and the University of Louisville in Louisville, Kentucky, commented on his use of 3D bioprinting and his plans for the BioBot 1: “Our bioprinting efforts are focused on the creation of tissues and organs for use in preclinical studies (e.g. drug and device testing) and clinical studies (e.g. replacement tissues and organs).
“We see 3D Bioprinting as a means to construct tissues and organs using regenerative and stem cells. The most critical technology hurdle that must be addressed in tissue constructs is incorporation of blood vessels in these constructs, and we believe 3D Bioprinting provides the technology necessary to create pre-vascularized tissue constructs.”
With unit sales in the double digits, the company is aggressively pursuing the research market, among other commercial markets. For the BioBots team, this is just the first step, says Cabrera, “our initial customers are using the BioBot printer to build complex tissue structures that may someday be grown into new tissues in the lab in order to replace damaged tissues in the body. The Holy Grail is to develop fully functioning replacement organs out of a patient’s own cells, eliminating the organ waiting list, but in the meantime we’ll settle for getting more drugs approved by the FDA at a significantly lower cost on an accelerated time scale, improving the quality of life for millions of people around the world.”
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TJ McCue Contributor: Passionate about tech: 3D to Cloud to Gadgets full bio →
In 2014, I spent 8-months in an RV exploring 3D printing, 3D scanning, and 3D design. The trip was sponsored, in part, by Autodesk, HP, Nvidia, Stratasys, Faro, and Jayco.
I consult on content strategy and produce web content for technology companies. In 2014, I went around the USA on an 8-month roadtrip (in a bright blue RV called 3DRV) exploring 3D Printing, 3D Scanning, and 3D Design. In the past, I have put pen to paper for the Wall Street Journal, Make, Sports Afield, the Pittsburgh Business Times and many others. You can follow my work via Twitter or email me. I write about the cloud, gadgets and gear, and 3D.
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The author is a Forbes contributor. The opinions expressed are those of the writer.