The Brave New World of 3D Bioprinting
Ourobotics founder Jemma Redmond came into 3D bioprinting through her studies in applied physics and a Master’s in nano-bioscience. She built her first bioprinters on her kitchen table, with these early attempts at tissue-engineering offering her substantial insight into the needs of the industry.
Ourobotics co-founder Stephen Gray is a bioengineering Ph.D. at the Imperial College London and, armed with a background in regenerative medicine and biochemistry; he was able to approach the bioprinting project from a synthetic biology and bioengineering point of view.
Ourobotics got funded and went to China, where, within a 4-month period, they built four bioprinters, including one with a robotic arm.
In January, the project took the top prize at the SVOD Europe Startup Competition.
We talked to Jemma and Stephen about the project’s journey and social meaning behind 3D bioprinting:
— What problem are you trying to solve?
— There is a major shortage of human organs for transplant. We are building the machines that print human organs and with this we can end these shortages.. we are also using these printers to print human tissue to replace animal testing. We must find an alternative to conducting studies and experiments with animals.What kind of obstacles to success has Ourobotics faced?
— What kind of obstacles to success has Ourobotics faced?
— Everything! Funding like any startup of course!/ We needed to learn many things fast, as we had two weeks to get ready and go to China for four months. Encountering a new culture. Crowds of new people. Chinese visa. A lot of testing. Working on biomaterials. Trying different materials and using various methods. Working on sales. 3D bioprinting is also very tricky to do, as it’s always an engineering and materials challenge. It is difficult to do all this stuff, but we did it.
— Who funded the project in the early stages?
— The HAX program through SOSVentures.
— Did you receive difficult questions from judges, investors, and others?
— Nothing complicated. General questions like, “What does the future look like?” and “What should we expect?”. How much to print a human heart? Can you print me an ear? Many of them don’t firmly believe in the future of bioprinting. Some people have never heard much about this field before.
People don’t know much about the bioprinting industry.
We have many competitors at different levels. Organovo, one of the pioneers, is working liver arrays for drug testing.
Others are working on different tissue types, and some are selling the machines and biomaterials.
We started off just planning on selling the hardware, but that evolved into us working with customers directly on the tissue itself. We have plans to manufacture human organs including customised organs.
The way of creating
“Then God said, “Let Us make man in Our image, according to Our likeness…” (Gen, 1:26)
Material. Time. Life.
There are many materials and methods that can be used to create organs. Some methods work best with certain materials, and some materials are only suitable for certain types of tissue. Everyone is trying to do the same thing and trying to replicate human tissue exactly, but we don’t think this is the best way.
The time required to create the structure varies on what you are trying to make. To create an organ, there is a process with some steps.
First, we print the tissue or scaffold with the 3D bioprinter. Then, you put the organ into the bioreactor for two or three, or more, months. You need to grow it. Small organs are easy to create, as they are easy for blood vessels to grow into. We also let the cells do the real work. Think of a garden. You give plants the right environment, and they will grow. This is what you must do with human or animal cells.
Real life-saving tech miracle or Huxley’s “The Brave New World”?
— How will bioprinting change the face of medicine and even the face of humanity? Will people be able to create another person, like Dr. Viktor Frankenstein did? Will people construct humans like LEGOs and produce another person without sex?
— We can already recover organs, tissue, skin, and bones, reconstruct a skeleton, and make a heart beat again. Yes, it does not work perfectly. There are limitations. But it is already possible, and the primary goal now is to improve the technology and methods.
In the cosmetics industry, it is currently feasible to use bioprinting to create any tissue and to refresh certain parts of the human body. We can create a new face, hair, nose, and fingers, which can be bought like you buy a new mobile phone.
So why we can’t take it into the field of medicine? Organs and implants are going to be like mobile phones. We buy a new cell phone to get some new features, so we should be able to buy new bodies that are even better than our current one.
It is all possible with bioprinting. Using any numbers of materials, making the structure more quickly, and designing a new body, face, tattoo, or organs. Even to construct a real, live person. Also, if you froze your stem cells from when you were a little. It could also be possible to say print out a new heart that is a maybe a few years old when you are 85. And any other organ too. How long could we live for if we could do that?
We will get these kinds of opportunities. We will create people without sex and construct them like LEGOs. But when it comes to technology, it’s neither good or bad. People will make it a real life-saving tech miracle or Huxley’s “The Brave New World.”