3D Printers

Two Commercially Available 3D Bioprinters, Courtesy of Swansea University

If it didn’t come out of the respected public research institution Swansea University, it might be hard to believe, but a new Welsh company called 3Dynamic has announced the immediate availability of two 3D bioprinting machines: the Alpha and Omega bioprinters.

3Dyanic Systems Ltd is a spin out of Swansea University, headed by Dr. Daniel Thomas, Senior Research Officer at the school’s College of Engineering. Dr. Thomas has conducted extensive research in the field of manufacturing and 3D printing and, as a result of his work at the Welsh Centre for Printing and Coating, is ready to commercialize 3D bioprinting systems.

The Alpha Bioprinter is the product of Dr. Thomas’s research into engineering a bone composite meant for transplant. The machine resembles a relatively ordinary desktop 3D printer, with 2 phase Nema17 stepper motors and a single extruder for printing the company’s Poly-capro-lactone, calcium phosphate, hydrogel matrix. In fact, the Alpha is even capable of processing PLA, like desktop machines, along with “Polyglycolic acid (PGA), Polyethylene glycol derivatives (PEG) Fibrin, Elastin, Collagen, Alginate and Agarose.” Unlike consumer 3D printers, the Alpha is meant to manufacture bone scaffolds in accurate anatomical shapes. The bone composite is seeded with a growth factor derived from platelets that lead to tissue regeneration via stem cells that produce bone and accompanying support structures, like blood vessels, over the course of three weeks. The Alpha Bone Tissue Workstation can be yours, your lab’s, or your university’s for only £12,800. That’s right, only £12,800.

3D bioprinting bone composite from 3Dynamic out of Swansea University

The Omega Tissue Engineering Workstation is designed to print soft tissues, using two extruders to fabricate multiple organic materials. While a composite made of “alginate, hyaluronic acid, transforming growth factor β1, antibiotics and gelatine” act as a scaffold, the second extruder lays down a bioactive gel, seeded with twenty million stem cells per millilitre. The subsequent print can then be cultured to create viable tissue in three weeks, with which researchers can “effectively produce experimental tissues and multiple tissue types on demand.” This machine will set your lab back £18,680, which is not the heftiest price for a device that emulates God on a small scale. In the video below, the Omega Bioprinter fabricates artifical tracheas on demand:

The implications of these commercially available machines are quite profound and the religiously epic names of each machine don’t try to hide that fact. In the short term, researchers can evaluate the effects of medicines on living tissue, without the need for animal testing. In the long run, bone and tissue can be printed for transplantation using a patient’s own cells to prevent rejection from the body’s immune system. These implications have been outlined by others in the field of 3D bioprinting, like Organovo, but what I may have missed in previous stories on the topic is 3Dynamic’s proposed use of their machines to create “experimental tissues”. It’s possible that they are referring to tissue to be used in experimentation, like the aforementioned drug testing research, but I also imagine radical scientists attempting to generate whole new types of tissues not previously found in nature. I know that it must not be as easy as it sounds to create organic composites by shoving two different types of tissue cells together, but the idea does make the imagination run wild.

While we await the kingdom of 3D printed organs to come, 3Dyanmic is also working on developing other 3D printing systems. According to a June press release from this year, the company plans to release the 3Dynamic Spider, a technology developed for the European Space Agency to make “biopolymer-based carbon fibre structures” for low-cost, but durable, light, and strong patient-specific prosthetics. And outside of medical research, Dr. Thomas and his team are also working to commercialize the 3D printing of “3D integrated electronics, biosensors, construction materials, [and] foods.” This is one company to keep your eye on!