Some of the biggest impacts 3D printing will have on the world are still quite far away. In labs around the world, people are taking the initial baby steps in bioprinting, tissue printing, using 3D printing in regenerative medicine and making things such as drug loaded implants. We can scarcely conceive of the impacts that bioprinting will have on medicine. We should also especially in this area be careful in distinguishing from the possible to the probable. While researchers see 3D printed organs in a clinical setting to be something like twenty years out most regular consumers see it a something that is bound to happen in a few years. In the middle of this exciting development sits the Advanced Solutions LifeSciences which makes bioprinters, bioprinting software and bioinks and is a part of the larger firm, Kentucky based Advanced Solutions Inc.(ASI). We interviewed Michael Golway the CEO of ASI and the company’s scientific advisor James Hoying to find out what they’re doing in bioprintig.
What is Advanced Solutions LifeSciences?
Michael: “Advanced Solutions Life Sciences (ASLS) exists to democratize and continually improve its BioAssembly 3D Bioprinting Platform, resulting in curative therapies that deliver improved longevity and quality of health while reducing global healthcare costs.”
What does the BioBot Basic do? And how much is it? Who is it intended for?
Michael: “The BioBot Basic is our entry-level bioprinter offering for $4,995. This bundle includes our tissue modeling software (TSIM) and 3D bioprinter which enables research institutions and private companies to rapid prototype with biomaterials.”
Can I adapt the unit for filament, other materials, heating materials etc.?
Michael: “The BioBot Basic is an ambient dispense unit with the ability to 3D print up to 5 different materials in a single print. Our BioAssemblyBot platform enables users the flexibility to adapt temperature control, UV Cure, material movement, etc.”
What is TSIM?
Michael: “TSIM stands for Tissue Structure Information Modeling – it is a 3D tissue modeling software program that enables the user to view both DICOM and 3D solid model constructs within the same workspace to precisely design and prototype simple to highly complex tissue structures.”
Why do researchers need Tissue Modeling software?
Michael: TSIM integrates many of the software-related tasks needed to generate living 3D tissues into a single workspace. Once a DICOM file is imported, the user can seamlessly navigate and edit the “digital tissue” generated by TSIM from the file to identify regions of interest for design and fabrication. Users can also create tissue models de novo, using whatever 3D design and segmentation tools they prefer. Once created, the digital prototype is sent to our biofabrication platform for production. No other software is required. Upcoming expansions to the TSIM platform will also enable the user to develop automated fabrication and manufacturing processes for tissue production; leveraging the broad manufacturing capabilities of the BioAssemblyBot.
What is the BioAssemblyBot?
Michael: The patented BioAssemblyBot is the world’s first 6-axis robotic arm that 3D prints human tissue structures. The BioAssemblyBot can perform both ‘Additive’ and ‘Contour’ 3D printing. In addition to the 3D printing tasks, the BioAssemblyBot has the flexibility to attach different tools to robotically control the assembly and material movement workflow within the workstation while also interfacing to other agile bioprocessing equipment.
Why a Six-Axis arm?
Michael: The first industrial robot was invented in 1954. In 60 years, the 6-axis robot has proliferated manufacturing plants across the planet resulting in exponential improvements in assembly and workflow tasks. Today, the technology offers high throughput, exceptional quality, low cost and extreme precision that enables us to now realize manufacturing for patient-matched human tissues. The workflow required to 3D bioprint and assemble complex human tissues are well-suited for a 6-Axis robotic arm and the BioAssemblyBot workstation.
What do you mean with contour 3D printing?
Michael: Contour 3D printing allows a continuous deposition of material along a path in the X, Y and Z plane. Traditional 3D printing is only in the X and Y plane with incremental Z movement. Since the 6-Axis Robot Arm moves with the freedom of a human arm, we are able to 3D print directly onto complex geometric surfaces. These surfaces can pre-exist (e.g. an existing object in the print space) or the result of printing from the 3D Model.
How does it assemble as well as print?
Jay: While many of these individual subassemblies may be printed, it’s unlikely that an entire organ, with all of its different components will be printed in a single run. Thus, in building complex tissues and organs, we envision the fabrication of sub-assemblies (e.g. valves, vessels, muscle sheets, etc. that make up the heart) which are then assembled into the larger, final product. The robotic arm is designed to perform a variety of manufacturing tasks to enable not just fabrication, but also assembly and bioprocessing. Our BioAssemblyBot does this by automatically switching tool-heads at the end of the arm from fabrication to pick-n-place, to imaging/scanning, and so on. The range of motion of the arm also enables the addition to an existing construct or organ part. In this way, our BioAssembly® Platform enables true tissue and eventually organ manufacturing.
For whom is this intended?
“Michael: Our first suite of products is targeted for research and pharmaceutical applications. We are beginning to release products specifically targeted for clinical applications.”
Why is tool head and motion stage temperature control important? What other tool heads can I add?
Jay: Many of the materials used in regenerative medicine exhibit complex temperature-dependent behaviors that can be leveraged in a tissue fabrication strategy.
- For example, a common preparation of collagen, a native material present in nearly all tissues, requires it to be maintained at cold temperatures. However, at warm temperatures (such as body temperature) the collagen will gel – helping to form the tissue structure. Thanks to our cold bioprinting tool, BioAssemblyBot users can keep the collagen throughout the preparation and entire fabrication process. Our build platform can be heated such that as the cold collagen is printed, it begins to gel immediately as it is added to the structure. The independent temperature control possible with the different aspects of the platform enables flexibility and customization of fabrication protocols.
- The universal adapter at the end of the robotic arm in the BioAssemblyBot® passes power, pneumatics, and data to and from whatever tool head that can be deployed. Thus, the types of tool heads, and therefore manufacturing functionality, is limited by the imagination of our engineering team and users. Everything from 3D scanners to specialized gripper tools to multi-material mixing tool heads are being deployed. We are constantly developing new and custom tool-heads for our customers depending on their applications.
For what kind of an application would I use all eight bioinks on the bot plus pick and place?
Jay: The BAB is capable of working with 8 different tool heads in a single fabrication operation. These could represent 8 different bioinks or a few bioinks plus a pick-n-place, as suggested. Or the operation might include the same bioink in tools fitted with different print nozzle diameters or shapes. One example application involving multi-tool head involves building 3D tissue models in multi-well plates, commonly used in throughput assays and screens. The breadth of tool use depends on how many different cell types, materials, and fabrication approaches are involved. For example, in one application we are developing, the pick-n-place tool is used to move tissue culture plates (before and after fabrication of the tissue) into the work envelope, 3 different tool heads fitted with different caliber nozzles are used to pattern a sacrificial structure, and an additional temperature-control tool is used to dispense cells in matrix. This example highlights the multi-tool use capability and process workflow control of our platform in automating tissue assay production at a high-throughput-like scale.
Can I use other materials than bioinks?
Jay: The BioAssembly Platform can utilize a spectrum of soft materials ranging in operational temperatures from 4oC up to 110oC. As most bioinks fit within this range, the platform is ideal for biomanufacturing. However, nearly any soft material that can be extruded can be employed with the system including silicones, ceramic pastes, glues, paints, biological extracts, food materials, etc. Coupled with our automation controls, the platform is promising great utility in a variety of industries beyond tissue fabrication. Related to this, and reflecting the flexibility of the platform, as our customers identify and develop next generation (bio)materials, we design and create novel printhead technologies for those materials.
Is the pick and place meant for manufacturing or could it be used for mechanized testing?
Michael: Today it is meant to move a tissue through our precision bioprinting workflow. Currently in our development pipeline is a mechanical analytics tool that captures mechanical performance and reliability of a bioprinted tissue or material. Such measurements are critical for assessing the stiffness, elasticity, and viscosity of tissues often employed in load-bearing applications such as menisci, vertebral discs, and bone.
What kind of things have people made with your machines?
Jay: Our Innovations Laboratory, customers, and partners are using our BioAssembly Platform to fabricate a variety of structures, devices, and objects. These include 3D tissue models for research and informative assays, microfluidic platforms for drug discovery and development, tissue patches, small caliber guide tubes, tissue microenvironments for device development, implant systems, organ models, and much more.
Why should I work with you?
Michael: Our organization is founded on the principle of innovating on behalf of the customer to advance the science, and our products are designed so that we can constantly improve them – it likely comes from our roots as a software company. We are obsessed with the promise of regenerative medicine and are working on key partnerships to unlock bioprinting at a therapeutic level, not just research. Not only do our customers get access to the world’s most advanced bioprinter technology platform, but they gain access to a dedicated team of professionals whose sole focus is our customer’s research, commercial and clinical success.