BioBots, a startup out of South Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, is selling its printers and bio-inks to researchers for a discounted rate in exchange for insights that are helping the company fast-track R&D on the compact machines.
The stuff of life
It’s not only the machine’s convenient size that makes BioBots’ printers standout. The company is also selling inks, which, once mixed with live cells, print out as three-dimensional living tissue.
BioBots makes different inks that work to generate several types of human tissue: bone, brain, cartilage, heart, liver, lung, and skin.
“Our ink is three powders, [researchers] add their fourth powder, which is the binding factor, and they would have to add their cells, mix that up for 5-10 minutes and then put it into the device,” Danny Cabrera, a BioBots co-founder, tells Natasha Lomas of TechCrunch. (Cabrera platformed the machine at TechCrunch Disrupt NY last month.) From there the machine’s software reads a user’s CAD design and creates instructions for the printer to follow, according to Cabrera.
Those inks also comprise a compound photoinitiator, which helps to cure the printed tissue.
In plain sight
Though, the biobot relies primarily on visible blue light to harden the printed tissue.
That runs contrary to what is quickly becoming the norm in 3D bioprinting: UV light and pressure.
“Cabrera says this is more effective for printing living tissue since pressure and UV can both harm living cells, whereas the blue light it’s using does not have a detrimental impact on cells,” notes Lomas.
The new small-scale technology allows for customized research and wider access to live 3D tissue.
“So you can have patients coming into the clinic and we can take cells directly from the patient and build 3D tissues, miniature tissues, specifically for that patient and test different treatments, different drug routines and personalized therapy’s for patient-specific disease,” explains Cabrera. And theoretically, that same level of customization could be used to create highly personalized luxury skin care.
BioBots developed its printers for a different business model than the ones we see being built by top beauty brands.
“When we looked at what was out there we found devices that existed were huge — they looked like old mainframe computers, they took up entire rooms, they cost half a million dollars and were really difficult to operate. You needed technicians to operate them,” says Cabrera.
L’Oreal has partnered with Organovo, P&G teamed up with Singapore’s Agency for Science, Technology & Research (a government organization), and in Japan Cyfuse Biomedical recently raised substantial capital—$11.8m—to pay for clinical trials that will further improve the company’s human tissue printer, the Regenova.
Meanwhile, other groups are at work on companion technologies that will advance this field too. A team of scientists at the Dresden University of Technology’s Centre for Translational Bone, Joint and Soft Tissue Research has hit upon a technology that makes bioprinting 3D algae possible, which has implications for algae and other ingredients as well as for printed skin.