13 Jul 2017

3D Bioprinting

Intro to article
Effectual observes a fast growing trend in a niche area of biomedical research and innovation – the surging technology called 3D bioprinting.

Introduction to 3D printing tech
3D printing, the mother discipline that encompasses 3D bioprinting, is a computer controlled process for forming 3D objects. As opposed to traditional machining processes for manufacturing of objects – which involve forming the desired object by removal of excess material from the material block taken initially – 3D printing technology involves adding thin layers of material in computer‐ controlled cycles to create the object. This is why the industrial version of the 3D printing process is often called Additive manufacturing. Additive manufacturing is used to manufacture some niche items in the market ranging from prosthetics to airplane engine parts.

Pioneers introduction
Although 3D printing is making a buzz in several areas of research and innovation, it wasn’t until the early 1980s that Charles Hull – known to his friends as Chuck ‐ first pioneered into the field. Working with UV lamps, Hull’s role at the firm he was employed with involved hardening an acrylic veneer onto tables or tiles using UV light. It was at this time that the 43 year old came up with an idea: to create a machine that could print out objects one could hold in one’s hand. Although initially dismissal, his boss reluctantly reached a compromise – Hull would dedicate himself to the firm during the day, and work on his idea during the night.

Hull started out with writing codes to direct a machine to cut layers of plastic into simple shapes. The coding was not easy. Once this was done, however, he used the UV lamp to etch layers of acrylic into any shape he liked, and then he stack the layers to form a final 3D product. Hull called the technology ‘stereolithography’ – a portmanteau of the Greek words “stereon” (solid), “lithos” (stone) and “graphy” (writing).

Hull’s first printer was an assorted collection of ill‐fitted parts put together. In 1986, Hull co‐founded 3D systems, and further modified the 3D printer. 3D systems recently signed a multi‐year collaboration agreement with United Therapeutics to create organ scaffolds for human transplants. In February 2017, Chuck Hull became the 98th recipient of the prestigious Washington Award.

Introduction to Bio-printing
Recent technological developments have allowed 3D printing to make progress in the realm of biology. Biocompatible materials, such as, cells and supporting components are formed into 3D functional living tissues using the technology aptly named 3D bioprinting. 3D bioprinting has been used to create and transplant several tissues, such as skin, bone, vascular grafts, tracheal splints, heart tissue and cartilaginous structures.

The challenges and benefits of 3D Bioprinting are as following:

3D Bioprinting Process Details
The process of 3D bioprinting starts with creating a voxel‐by‐voxel computer model of the tissue or organ to be built. Simultaneously, bioink is produced from a living cell culture. Optionally hydrogel or collagen can also be used in making the bioink composition. Once formed, the bioink is loaded into the cartridges of the bioprinter and the print‐heads driven by the computer program deposit patterned cell aggregates in precise layers. The spheroids of deposits fuse together without any external interference to form the desired 3D tissue.

The newly formed 3D tissue is removed from the printer and placed in an incubator, where it is left to mature and grow. Accelerated tissue maturation can be influenced by necessary chemical and mechanical conditioning of the tissue, and once matured the tissue is ready to be transplanted.

3D Bioprinting Market Assessment
In 2015 alone, over 90,000 patients in the United States waited for organs that were yet to be created. Bioprinting is especially useful in regenerative medicine to combat the growing demand for organs suitable for transplantation.

In spite of recent advances in research, the field of bioprinting is still fraught with challenges.Several players have entered the market looking for a breakthrough.

Organovo, a firm founded in 2007 in California is at the forefront of innovation trying to combat some of these challenges. Earlier this year, Keith Murphy, CEO of Organovo, said, “Our 3D bioprinted human tissues are a disruptive and game‐changing technology.” He went on to add, “I am a true believer in our existing tissue research services, the potential of our therapeutic liver tissue, and the future opportunities enabled by our platform technology.”

The need of the hour, however, is an integration of technologies from diverse disciplines such as materials sciences, cell biology and physics, computer sciences. Several Universities across the globe are partnering with top companies and research laboratories in the race for innovation and patent rights.

IP experts at Effectual have identified the percentage of filings in several areas of bioprinting to draw patterns in Patent and innovation. The patent filling in this domain started from 2004. A sudden surge in filling is observed since 2013. Over 32 percent of the filings focus on the 3D bioprinter, whereas around percent of the filings focus on bioink.

The areas of application of bioprinting are slowly expanding. Skin tissue and Blood vessel are the leading application areas based on the IP study conducted by analysts at Effectual, and bone and renal tissue is gathering pace as well.


Bioprinting is a discipline rife with possibilities. Several tech experts predict that with this technology we might soon be able to imagine a world where no organ receiver will have to wait for his transplant. In a few years time, 3D Bioprinter will be more polished with additional research and several companies entering the field.

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