3D printing has been around for decades, but recently its seen an explosion in popularity. Developments in 3D printing technology have brought down costs and increased convenience to the point where an average consumer can make use of the technology. People have used 3D printing for things like rapid prototyping, building scale models, and in some cases even using it to create parts to assemble into firearms. Now BioBots, a Philadelphia based startup, is pushing forward 3D printing in another field: human tissues and organs.
Machines to fabricate human tissues are not new, but the BioBots team think they have an advantage over existing technology. The current machines in this field are incredibly large and also very expensive, costing hundreds of thousands of dollars. Biobots draws inspiration from consumer-grade desktop 3D printers, and they created a much smaller and lower cost alternative to the existing technology.
Users will need to provide cells as raw material for the printer. The printer uses a special kind of ink during the printing process which reacts with blue light to harden the printed structures. This method is superior to the industry standard which uses UV light or pressure to harden the structures, both of which could damage the cells.
BioBots recently showed off this technology at TechCrunch Disrupt NY. During the conference the team printed out a replica of Vincent Van Gogh's ear. The primary market of this technology at the moment is pharmaceutical companies testing out new drugs. Using these printed organs for testing can provide more useful information about the effects of drugs on humans then animal testing. Using printed organs will also be superior to testing drugs on cultures grown from human cells, because cultures lack the depth and complexity of actual organs.
Although the technology is not currently being used to grow replacement organs, the team is developing in that direction as a long-term goal. A more short-term goal for BioBots is to use the tech for personalized therapy and treatment. In some cases there are many different drugs which might treat a particular disease, and which one is the most effective varies from case to case. This technology can be used to create tissues from cells taken from the patient, and these tissues can be used to test out different drug routines to see which is best in that particular case.
This technology certainly looks promising, and could forever change the way drugs are tested. For more information you can check out BioBots' official site.