In this interview, AZoM speaks to members of SunP Biotech about 3D bioprinting and its applications.
Please tell us a bit about SunP Biotech
SunP Biotech is a new company that focuses its efforts on the 3D bio-manufacturing sector. We design and manufacture bioprinters which are used for advanced biomedical research. We also develop and manufacture bio-inks that can be used with any bioprinters to build tissue-specific structures very easily.
Currently, we are exploring areas of tissue engineering, regenerative medicine, and drug cancer research. Bio-inks can be designed to be tissue-specific because different tissues require different growth environments. We serve customers that are working with several different biological models and tissues such as tumor cells, embryonic stem cells, liver cells, etc. We have also collaborated with many universities on cutting-edge research in fields like neurodegenerative diseases, bone regeneration, cardiac muscle tissue, and microfluidics for cell studies. Developing bio-inks to print these specific tissues is very important for biomedical research.
What is 3D bioprinting and how can it improve healthcare and medicine?
3D bioprinting is the conversion of a 3D model or 3D digital file into a physical, biological part using a layer by layer manufacturing technique.
It is similar to actual 3D printing, except the materials printed are biomaterials and cells. These biomaterials are tailored for cells to survive and grow in the specific architecture or structure that is intended.
The advantage of 3D printing, as it is a subset of additive manufacturing, is the ability to use the least amount of necessary material to build whatever you want to make. However, 3D printing is effectively adding material to build the part, only using as much material as the final product requires. It is a less wasteful process.
Specifically, with 3D bioprinting, you can create custom shapes with intricate details and high precision, such as blood vessels in an organ. It also allows for individual tailoring. Not all of us are made the same - our organs are different sizes, and our vascular architecture can be different from one another. 3D printing allows us to print for your unique body using your own unique cells.
A popular application for 3D bioprinting is drug testing. For example, researchers can 3D print many different biological samples, which can then be tested with multiple cancer drugs to see how it reacts with an individual’s cells. This process, done conventionally, could take years to complete and ultimately can be more harmful to the patient. Perhaps in the future, this process will just be part of a routine doctor’s appointment for every patient.
What are you showcasing at MRS Fall this year?
At MRS Fall this year, we are exhibiting a desktop bio-printer, the ALPHA-CPD1. It is a benchtop printer and doesn’t need to be used in any environmentally regulated facility or lab. Many other bioprinters in the market require use in biohoods with HEPA filtration, but the ALPHA-CPD1 has HEPA filtration built-in, making it very user-friendly. We are also exhibiting tissue model samples that have been printed using our various bio-printers, and we also have a variety of bio-inks that we have been developing. We will be launching our line of custom bio-inks very soon!
What makes your products and services unique?
One of the major benefits of our products is that our printer technology is 100% mechanical based, whereas most of our competitors use pneumatic pressure-based systems. There are pros and cons for both systems, but most research centers work on mechanical based printers and find them more effective.
We provide consulting services for centers and companies. We have a solution for any problem related to bio-printing and bio-fabrication, and we will work with you until you achieve the desired result. Everyone at the company is an expert in what they do. In fact, the founder of the company is bio-fabrication pioneer and has been in the field for over 20 years.
Since the field is young, all the researchers that have been working on bio-printing, so far, tend to build their own printers. That’s one of the problems that we are trying to solve - we don't want researchers and students to focus their time and money on building a printer. Rather, we want them to use a high-quality printer that has already been perfected so that they can focus on their research.
How do you see 3D bioprinting developing in the future?
An ambitious vision, maybe decades from now, would be to create and sell human organs. Imagine going to a CVS or pharmacy store and being able to get yourself a liver!
Perhaps a closer future includes 3D printing for drug research. Cancer is a major concern in this country, and if you go through the current cancer treatment, chemo drugs might not always be very effective or may be accompanied by adverse side effects. Sometimes they might make you sicker than you are. Being able to print your own personalized cells and exposing them to many different drugs at once would allow doctors to then identify what treatments are right for you.
Pharmaceutical companies may be interested in drug delivery, drug dosage, and drug screening research conducted on 3D printed human tissue models.
Having said that though, the reality is that a lot of this research requires government and FDA approval, so some of these ideas may take a considerable amount of time before coming to fruition.
Besides the areas you have already mentioned, what other application areas are there for bioprinting?
There are many applications, and we have a broad range of researchers, labs, and institutes interested in our products for different reasons. In fact, we spoke with someone in the cosmetics industry who wanted to print skin to test cosmetics on skin samples, as opposed to animal testing or even human testing. Skin is composed of different tissue layers and since our desktop printer can have up to 3 printing nozzles, the unique morphology of skin can be printed.
Food printing is another avenue people want to explore - being able to print meats, a safer and more humane substitute for traditional animal meat. Earlier this year, we attended a New Harvest Conference, which focused on cellular agriculture and lab grown meat. If you look at your steak, for example, you can see marbling, that mixture of fat and muscle tissue. That fat is what adds flavor, so if you customize that architecture of fat and muscle, you may be able to control the flavor of this lab-grown food. Another property you can control is moisture as it is very important to the texture of food and for the retention of different nutrients. If you control the density of these different types of materials, you could create different tastes and more nutritious food.
There are many other areas that are ripe for research– leather printing for instance. People wear a lot of clothing that comes from animal-based products, so if there is a way to make leather a more humane textile, many different industries could be interested.
There are many innovative applications of 3D bio-printing that have yet to be explored. 3D-bioprinting gives way to possibilities that were previously unimaginable.