3D Bio-Printing: Fabricating Human Tissue

A Future Tech Interview with Danny Cabrera, Founder + CEO of BioBots

3D printing has come a long way from the days of printing plastic prototypes. Today, multi-material additive printing using a range of materials, including metals, is becoming commonplace. What you may not be aware of are the rapid advances in the bio-fabrication of human tissues using 3D printing techniques.

In this Future Tech video interview I’m speaking with Danny Cabrera, the co-founder and CEO of BioBots — a US start-up that sits at the intersection between computer science, biology and chemistry. They’ve designed 3D bio-printers and bio-inks that are unleashing a bio-fabrication revolution.

Danny was studying Computer Science and Biology at the University of Pennsylvania when he realized that the tools being used for biology were designed around core technology from 150 years ago — namely, the traditional tissue culture, which grows cells on a flat surface, and produces a monolayer of cells. It’s great for doing experiments, but it has nothing to do with what’s actually happening inside of a human body, where cells interact with one another and tissue materials in 3D space.

Additionally, there wasn’t a lot happening in biology with automation and taking advantage of connected devices and the Internet of Things.

Danny started working on a 3D bio-printer to solve these problems as part of an academic project, which ultimately led to the creation of BioBots. It’s a fascinating story of having a great idea, and following through to make it a commercial reality.

BioBots looks like a traditional 3D printer. It’s a device that has an extruder that moves in X, Y and Z axes. What’s interesting is that “ink” is a solution of biocompatible materials (different materials for different tissue types). It’s similar to how an inkjet printer holds different coloured cartridges for printing in different colors.

Printing and Growing Human Tissue

Bio-printing an ear (Image: BioBots)

Bio-printing an ear (Image: BioBots)

Proximal artery alginate (Image: BioBots)

Proximal artery alginate (Image: BioBots)

BioBots printers are being used in research labs around the world to grow many different tissues. For example, researchers have designed a fibrosis model to show what happens with thrombosis inside of a human body. By flowing human blood through these bio-printed models scientists can test new drugs or new compounds and observe them in ways that would be missed with a flat 3D cell culture, or an animal test. You can see whether or not a drug is likely to be effective in clinical trial, before you go through the expense of an actual trial.

Imagine, in the not too distant future, going into your doctor’s office and testing proposed prescriptions on a bio-printed model of your own cells.

We’re still in the early stages of developing this revolutionary technology. At some stage in the future, it’s quite likely that we’ll be able to bio-print complete human organs. Stay tuned!

Update June 2019: BioBots is now called Allevi

About the author: Shara Evans is recognized as one of the world’s top female futurists. She’s a media commentator, strategy adviser, keynote speaker and thought leader, as well as the Founder and CEO of Market Clarity.

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