Medical & Dental

IRNAS Vitaprint opens doors to 3D bioprinted tissue research

The Institute for Development of Advanced Application Systems (Institute IRNAS) in Rače, Solvenia, takes an opensource approach to the research and development of “technologies that improve lives.” Vitaprint is the institute’s open 3D bioprinting platform. In addition to developing Vitaprint hardware and software, IRNAS researchers are making templates that can be used by others. The latest Vitaprint template is a system of vessels matching those found in the ear.

Inside an opensource biolab

Vitaprint research takes place at the institute’s Symbiolab – an opensource biolab giving biomedical researchers access to the latest equipment and materials. Previous projects at the Symbiolab include mushroom cultivation as a means of biodegradable packaging, or even vegan leather, and Fabrikor – an ongoing project to develop “future proof” hardware.

IRNAS Vitaprint setup. Photo via IRNAS
IRNAS Vitaprint setup. Photo via IRNAS

Challenges to tissue engineering 

The most recent Vitaprint protocol tackles one of the greatest present challenges in 3D biofabrication. Boštjan Vihar, a Biomimmeticist at IRNAS explains, “Currently vascularization is a major issue in tissue engineering,” this is due in part to the resolution available in man-made systems. It is difficult to match the micro and nano-scopic scale of many features in the human body.

“….the approach we are testing,” continues Vihar, “is creating methods for free form fabrication of perfusable vessles in compatible matrices which may be used as a basis for blood vessel fabrication.”

Bioprinting an ear

At IRNAS, vessels are written with the point of needle. Researchers start with a circular gel – the supporting matrix.

A gel matrix on the Vitaprint bioprinter. Photo via IRNAS
A gel matrix on the Vitaprint bioprinter. Photo via IRNAS

The complex vessel structure, with a number of branches, is then written into the gel by a syringe mounted to a mechanical gantry. As the needle of the syringe leaves the matrix, the gel automatically seals over the spot. The hollow pathways can then be injected with substances, including cells, to study how they behave in the vessel network.

An ear vessel network written into a gel bed. Photo via IRNAS
An ear vessel network written into a gel bed. Photo via IRNAS

The future is opensourse

With many challenges still to face, tissue engineering is certain to benefit from a shared, open-source approach. The Vitaprint project at IRNAS benefits from a number of partnership with leading research academies, including the University of Applied Sciences Upper Austria and RWTH Aachen University.

Elsewhere, Rice University, Texas, the University of Maryland, and Wake Forest Institute for Regenerative Medicine will be in close collaboration at the NIH’s forthcoming Center for Engineering Complex Tissues. A number of opensource biolabs are also opening around the world, including Manchester’s BiOspace in the UK, and bioprinting facilities at Fab Lab Amsterdam.

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