Robot Skin 3D Printer Close to First-in-Human Clinical Trials

In just two years a robotic device that prints a patient’s own skin cells directly onto a burn or wound could have its first-in-human clinical trials. The 3D bioprinting system for intraoperative skin regeneration developed by Australian biotech start-up Inventia Life Science has gained new momentum thanks to major investments from the Australian government and two powerful new partners, world-renowned burns expert Fiona Wood and leading bioprinting researcher Gordon Wallace.

Codenamed Ligō from the Latin “to bind”, the system is expected to revolutionize wound repairs by delivering multiple cell types and biomaterials rapidly and precisely, creating a new layer of skin where it has been damaged. The novel system is slated to replace current wound healing methods that simply attempt to repair the skin, and is being developed by Inventia Skin, a subsidiary of Inventia Life Science.

“When we started Inventia Life Science, our vision was to create a technology platform with the potential to bring enormous benefit to human health. We are pleased to see how fast that vision is progressing alongside our fantastic collaborators. This Federal Government support will definitely help us accelerate even faster,” said Dr. Julio Ribeiro, CEO, and co-founder of Inventia.

Seeking to support Australia’s biomedical and medical technology sector, the Australian government announced it will invest AU$1 million (US$723,085) to supercharge the Ligõ 3D bioprinting system for regenerating skin. The project is one of 21 initiatives to receive support from the Federal Government’s BioMedTech Horizons (BMTH) program, operated by MTPConnect, a non-profit organization aiming to accelerate the rate of growth of the medical technologies, biotechnologies, and pharmaceuticals sector in Australia.

Late in July 2020, Australia’s Federal Health Minister, Greg Hunt announced that the program’s funding is expected to move the device faster into first-in-human clinical trials. Separately, the team also received funding from the Medical Research Future Fund Stem Cell Therapies Mission to collaborate with stem cell expert Pritinder Kaur from Curtin University, in Perth, to use the Ligō device to deliver stem cell-based products that could improve skin regeneration.

According to Inventia, the skin is the first point of injury in accidents and some diseases and, when significantly damaged, it heals slowly, usually leaving a scar. Moreover, throughout the regeneration process, it is open to infection, a major problem in the body’s first protective barrier, and a good enough reason to find new ways to speed up the healing process.

Focusing energies on creating a robot capable of printing tiny droplets containing the patient’s skin cells and biomaterials directly on the wound gave Inventia the potential to recreate functional and aesthetically normal skin. Moreover, the researchers behind the Ligõ technology suggest this can be achieved in a single procedure in the operating theatre, reducing treatment cost and hospital stays, and minimizing the risk of infection.

The device uses Inventia’s patented technology, which was already successfully featured in its RASTRUM platform for lab-based medical research and drug discovery. By taking this core technology into the clinic through the Ligō robot, the company expects to break new ground with some of Australia’s leaders in skin regeneration.

Researchers from Inventia Life Science at the Translational Research Initiative for Cell Engineering and Printing (TRICEP) at Wollongong. (Image courtesy of TRICEP)

Researchers from the ARC Centre of Excellence for Electromaterials Science (ACES) at the University of Wollongong, in Australia, will also lend their internationally renowned expertise in bioinks to develop the new 3D bioprinting system to treat burns during surgery. Led by ACES Director Gordon Wallace, the researchers will provide critical input in the bioprinter and bioink development process. This news comes as no surprise as the ACES team already had a strong working relationship with Inventia.

“ACES is at the forefront of building new approaches to 3D printing, and this project will draw on this significant success we have had in this space in recent years,” Wallace said. “3D printing has emerged as the most exciting advance in fabrication in decades, and I’m excited to continue to build our local capabilities in this area to establish a new, innovative and sustainable industry for the Illawarra [a region in the Australian state of New South Wales]. Being part of this skin regeneration project will help to put Wollongong on the map for the commercial manufacture of bioprinting technologies.”

Leading bioprinting researcher Gordon Wallace. (Image courtesy of the ARC Center for Excellence for Electromaterials Science)

For project partner Fiona Wood, a world-leading burns specialist and surgeon, and Director of the Burns Service of Western Australia, this is not the first time that she has looked towards bioengineering to help her patients. In the early 90s, the expert pioneered the innovative “spray-on skin” technique, which greatly reduces permanent scarring in burns victims, and came to notice in 2002, when the largest proportion of survivors from the Bali bombings arrived at Royal Perth Hospital.

“The combination of these grants is an excellent example of the way the Medical Research Future Fund is being applied across the continuum of translational research to commercialization, leading to better patient outcomes,” commented Wood.

Fiona Wood at the Burns Service of Western Australia. (Image credit Fiona Woods Foundation)

Burns are the fourth most common type of trauma worldwide, with an estimated 11 million burned patients treated every year worldwide, and over 300,000 deaths resulting from serious wounds. In Australia alone Wood’s foundation reported that 200,000 people suffer burns annually, costing the Australian community over AU$150 million per year. Burn injuries are horrific and they present complex problems for both the patient and clinicians to deal with, with a road to recovery beyond easy to tackle. Inventia Skin expects bioprinting technology will be a game-changer in wound medicine. Moreover, the combined expertise of leading specialists in bioprinting and burn wounds, along with funding and support from the local government could lead to one of the most innovative 3D bioprinting systems to treat burns during surgery, and best of all, it could be available in 2022.

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CSIRO 3D Prints First Self-Expandable Stents from Shape-Memory Alloy Nitinol

Peripheral Arterial Disease (PAD) is a condition which sees fatty deposits collect and lower the blood flow in arteries outside of the heart, most commonly in the legs. Those suffering from PAD will often experience pain while walking, and could even develop gangrene if the case is serious enough. Over 10 percent of people in Australia are afflicted with this painful condition. To treat it, a stent can be temporarily inserted inside the blood vessel to keep it open.

We’ve seen 3D printing used to fabricate stents before, which can help improve sizing options and allow for patient-specific diameters and shapes. But ,until now, there hasn’t been a way to print a self-expandable stent made of shape-memory nickel and titanium alloy nitinol. The material is superelastic, and metallurgists have had a difficult time trying to figure out a way to 3D print a self-expandable nitinol stent without compromising the unique properties of the metal alloy.

But researchers from Australia’s national science agency, the Commonwealth Scientific and Industrial Research Organisation (CSIRO), together with its Wollongong-based partner, the Medical Innovation Hub, have finally made it possible.

Vascular surgeon Dr. Arthur Stanton, the Chief Executive of Medical Innovation Hub, explained, “Currently, surgeons use off-the-shelf stents, and although they come in various shapes and sizes, overall there are limitations to the range of stents available. We believe our new 3D-printed self-expanding nitinol stents offer an improved patient experience through better fitting devices, better conformity to blood vessel and improved recovery times. There is also the opportunity for the technology to be used for mass production of stents, potentially at lower cost.”

Stent model

The first 3D-printed nitinol stent is a major medical breakthrough for PAD patients, as surgeons have had to use off-the-shelf, non-custom stents for these procedures in the past. But with 3D printing, individual nitinol stents can be made right at the hospital, with the surgeon there to offer instructions—saving time and money, and reducing inventory, as well.

According to Australia’s Minister for Industry, Science and Technology, Karen Andrews, 3D printing could mark a major paradigm shift in the $16 billion worldwide stent manufacturing industry:

“This is a great example of industry working with our researchers to develop an innovative product that addresses a global need and builds on our sovereign capability.”

The proof-of-concept stents offer the potential for customization to individual patient requirements, but are equally as suitable for mass production.

Back in 2015, CSIRO opened the Lab22 Innovation Center. The specialist researchers there are focused on creating value for Australia’s manufacturing industry by developing future developments in metal additive manufacturing. CSIRO’s Lab22 collaborates with industry partners, like the Medical Innovation Hub, to build important biomedical parts, like the first 3D-printed sternum and titanium heel, and now the first 3D-printed nitinol stent.

CSIRO Principal Research Scientist Dr Sri Lathabai said, “Nitinol is a shape-memory alloy with superelastic properties. It’s a tricky alloy to work with in 3D printing conditions, due to its sensitivity to stress and heat. We had to select the right 3D-printing parameters to get the ultra-fine mesh structure needed for an endovascular stent, as well as carefully manage heat treatments so the finished product can expand as needed, once inside the body.”

The team used selective laser melting (SLM) technology to successfully fabricate the complex mesh stent structures. Due to the level of geometric accuracy that 3D printing achieves, the stents can be made for specific patients, and nitinol allows them to expand once inside the body. CSIRO has established a new technology company, Flex Memory Ventures (FMV), to help commercialize the technology.

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Inventia Life Science Empowers Researchers to Rapidly Scale 3D Cell Culture

No disease has ever been as overwhelming as cancer, not only does it kill close to 10 million people every year, but even though we still fail to understand how to avoid it, one thing is for sure, researchers are beginning to look at this disease from a different perspective. We have seen lots of research on bioprinting human cells to mimic tumors for testing cancer drugs and now more than ever, new companies are surfacing to create bioprinters for a demand that will surely grow in the future. That is the case with Sydney based start-up Inventia Life Science. Built around digital bioprinting technology for fast, scalable, and reproducible printing of 3D cell constructs, company founders Julio Ribeiro, Aidan O’Mahoney, Cameron Ferris, and Philippe Perzi, expected their creation to remove the need for time-consuming manual labor of medical lab workers.

In 2013, the company’s research led to the development of a proprietary platform encompassing bioprinting technology, an expanding library of printable bioink materials, and custom protocols for specific applications. Their 3D bioprinting platform called Rastrum has been used to rapidly print human cells to help with cancer drug testing and recently, the Coronavirus pandemic motivated the company to produce 3D lung microtissues for researching therapies.

Highly recognizable and easily distinguished from its competitors due to its stand-out pink color, the device was designed with cell biologists in mind, instead of tissue engineers. In the last years, the developers emphasized how this as a great advantage of the printer for researchers who seek better 3D cell models. In that sense, Rastrum creators claim that the machine delivers a platform where hydrogels, printable structures, and printing parameters are pre-validated, enabling a simple and efficient workflow for the creation of 3D cell models. And best of all, no prior bioprinting knowledge is required.

Last year, the hot pink machine won one of Australia’s major design awards, the prestigious Good Design Award of the Year. Designed by two leading medical and science academics from Sydney’s Australian Centre for Nanomedicine (ACN), at the University of New South Wales (UNSW), Justin Gooding and Maria Kavallaris, as the result of a strong collaboration between the university, the Children’s Cancer Institute, and Inventia Life Science, Rastrum is being used extensively throughout Australia as well as other countries.

Rastrum bioprinting platform (Credit: Inventia Life Science)

The printer uses ink-jet technology to print human cells at a rapid rate, quickly cultivating realistic tumors for testing cancer drugs. The technology focuses on printing high volumes of human cancer cell spheroids so that cancer researchers can try to find better ways to eradicate the disease. At the University of Technology Sydney, researchers are printing ovarian cancer cells, while the Victorian Centre for Functional Genomics (VCFG) at the Peter MacCallum Cancer Center in the Australian city of Victoria, was the first lab to install the Rastrum system and apply the technology to their ongoing cancer research.

The innovative technology allows scientists to print 3D cell models at unprecedented speed, replacing a time-consuming and manual process, expanding the capacity for research and drug development in cell models. According to scientists at VCFG, the machine is able to produce 1,000 3D cell models in less than six hours, a task that would regularly take more than 50 hours using current manual techniques.

One of the first users of the device, Kaylene Simpson, associate professor and head of the VCFG at Peter Mac said that “this is a novel and exciting platform for cancer research,” with “the ability to create realistic three-dimensional cell models through an automated and scalable process [that] will vastly accelerate our research progress and advance therapeutic target discovery.” She also revealed that “we have a very clear vision of the clinical applications of the technology.”

However, Inventia is also moving beyond its focus on cancer cells and is now claiming that the versatility of the Rastrum platform can also rapidly print 3D lung microtissue for COVID-19 therapy development. This is not the first biotechnology company that has chosen to focus its efforts to aid researchers in accelerating procedures and seeking cures for the newly discovered infectious disease caused by severe acute respiratory syndrome coronavirus 2 (SARS-CoV-2).

In fact, Inventia revealed in April that their Rastrum 3D bioprinting platform could become a powerful tool for the
production of 3D lung microtissues and that the team of company researchers could move their expertise and capacity to develop these cell models, which can be tailored for therapy development. Furthermore, the Australian-based team proposed to even adjust the 3D cell models for the specific requirements of individual research laboratories and are already working with sites in Australia to explore the potential to accelerate in vitro research into COVID-19 therapies using advanced 3D lung microtissues.

Considering that to date there are currently no effective vaccines, antiviral treatments, or therapeutic agents against COVID-19, Inventia claimed that there is a very high need for multi-cellular in vitro microtissues to understand and assess treatments against this new virus to fend off the global pandemic. Previous lung alveolar research, they say, has shown that in vitro models that recapitulate the original tissue arrangement can be valuable tools both for lung toxicity studies and important therapeutic drug development.

Just like with scalable cancer models, Inventia claims that their cell model platform is capable of reliably producing several hundred 3D alveolar cell models per day, composed of the essential cell types and their native extracellular environment, to enable and accelerate the discovery and validation of novel treatments.

Rastrum regents ((Credit: Inventia Life Science)

Based on proprietary digital bioprinting technology, Rastrum includes hardware, software, and printable biomaterials that together enable a robust drop-on-demand bioprinting approach, as opposed to the common extrusion-based bioprinter.

The Rastrum platform is basically being used by biomedical researchers to print advanced 3D cell culture models. However, the company has indicated that it is also working with world-leading scientists and clinicians on longer-term regenerative medicine programs.

The fast-growing, venture capital-backed startup also sought to transform the medical research sector by providing Rastrum hydrogels, which are the only validated hydrogels that the machine will work with. Inventia chose to provide their own library of natural and synthetic printable hydrogel bioinks, as well as their own custom software-embedded printing protocols, to help users focus on the biology.

A prominent feature of the Australian bioprinting community is how fast it’s growing. From research institutions to universities, companies, and government-funded projects, the field is amassing a lot of followers, mainly students determined to find the next boom in life science occupations. The field is opening up opportunities for young innovators to create new machines and push the boundaries of the technology. And startups, like Inventia Life Science, are doing just that, upgrading their machines to create versatile and robust instruments that are easy to handle and cost-effective for researchers and labs. As one of the leading firms to supply Australian cancer research labs, we certainly expect to hear more about them in the future.

Rastrum inside view (Credit: Inventia Life Science)

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Australian Army Enters 3D Printing Pilot Program, Partnering with SPEE3D & CDU

3D printing will soon be assisting members of the military in Australia, as a 12-month pilot training program has begun in a $1.5 million partnership with SPEE3D and Charles Darwin University (CDU).

The Australian Minister of Defense Industry, the Hon. Melissa Price MP, has announced that soldiers mostly from 1st Combat Service Support Battalion (1 CSSB) will be training in 3D printing, using the large-format WarpSPEE3D 3D metal printer to be on-site at Darwin’s Robertson Barracks—and then deployed for field use as needed for military exercises by the Australian Army.

SPEE3D CEO Byron Kennedy points out that this is ‘another significant announcement’ for both the military and his company:

This program with the Australian Army, in parallel with a similar project with the Royal Australian Navy announced in November last year, will enable the Australian Defense Force to grow our sovereign capability and lead the world in the field of additive manufacturing.”

With the new ability to 3D print parts on-demand with innovative metal technology, the goal is for the Australian Army to ‘enhance lines of logistics, ‘according to a recent press release sent to

This trial represents the culmination of a proposal submitted last year, with the mission to overhaul the supply chain for the military. Lieutenant Colonel Kane Wright, Commanding Officer 1 CSSB, explained that this initiative will allow the Army to keep up with ‘the accelerated nature of warfare.’

“This partnership with CDU and SPEE3D shows that we as an army are looking to the future and embracing advanced technologies to speed up our processes,” continued Wright. “At maturity we see it becoming an essential enabler that will redefine how logistics is employed to support our dependencies on the future battlefield.

“This will reduce the requirement to deploy with bulky holdings of multiple repair parts, hence increasing mobility and survivability and reducing time waiting for new parts to create greater resilience in the supply chain.”

The first ten weeks of training are taking place at CDU’s Casuarina Campus, with military personnel trained by researchers skilled in 3D printing, covering:

  • Fundamentals of design
  • 3D modeling
  • 3D printing
  • Testing & evaluation of developed parts

“This 3D printing technology has the potential to change the way many industries, including defense, design, manufacture and supply parts,” said CDU Vice-Chancellor and President, Professor Simon Maddocks upon visiting soldiers performing classwork. ““CDU has become a center of excellence in exploring and applying this new technology and we’re pleased to have such eager professional soldiers join us to learn this new skill set.”

The Royal Australian Navy also began a trial program last November—again, with SPEE3D and CDU, streamlining maintenance of their patrol vessels with 3D printed parts.

1 CSSB Fitter Lance Corporal Sean Barton was one of the 20 soldiers who signed on for training:

“This is a very exciting opportunity for me and very different from my regular trade as a Fitter,” Lance Corporal Barton said. “I am looking forward to getting my hands on the software, learning about the design process and being one of the first to learn how to use the technology – it’s pretty cool.”

Numerous governments are using 3D printing today and performing complex research which may allow 3D printing in remote areas, in challenging climates, and much more. What do you think of this news? Let us know your thoughts! Join the discussion of this and other 3D printing topics at

[Source / Images: SPEE3D]

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Australian Researchers 3D Printing Tactile Sensors with TPU and PLA Composites

In the recently published ‘An Ultrasensitive 3D Printed Tactile Sensor for Soft Robotics,’ Australian researchers Saeb Mousavi, David Howard, Chun Wang, and Shuying Wu create a new method for production of piezo-resistive tactile sensors for soft robotics, using FDM 3D printing with thermoplastic polyurethane (TPU) and a polylactic acid-graphene (PLA-G) composite.

Fabrication of tactile sensors via 3D printing are receiving increasingly more attention due to the benefits offered—from greater affordability overall to increased speed in production, and the ability to use multiple materials, including graphene. Due to ‘superior surface area’ and high conductivity, graphene shows great promise as a material for tactile sensing. Thermoplastics are accessible and affordable, and easy to print. No post-processing is required, and stronger bonding occurs for embedded networks due to greater hardness in the graphite.

For this study, the researchers used polylactic acidgraphene (PLA-G) conductive polymer composite (CPC) as a piezoresistive sensing material for 3D printing tactile sensors. They 3D printed a stretchable sensor, testing performance by assessing the bending angle and wide pressure range. While the sample the researchers created for this study was basic, it shows promise for the ability to 3D print and use more complex geometries later as the material is sensitive to the differences in pressure and bending.

“The ability to integrate structural and sensing materials into one printed part gives several advantages and bypasses some of the limitations of conventional fabrication methods,” state the researchers. “This sensor can easily be integrated or attached to soft robotic actuators for acquiring tactile information.”

Because PLA is not flexible, they created the PLA-G composite to work as a layer sandwiched between the TPU (here, the research team used Ninjaflex), with no ‘debonding’ noted.

3D printed sensor. PLA-G is sandwiched between two layers of TPU. At the two ends, PLA-G is designed to be exposed to facilitate wire bonding.

“The sensor was glued at two ends on an aluminum hinge to test its sensitivity to confined bending. During each experiment, the hinge was bended to a certain degree and returned to its original state rapidly,” explained the researchers. “By measuring the initial gauge length and the radius of curvature, the corresponding strain (ε) induced in the sensor for each bending angle was calculated (ε = ΔL/L0), and the gauge factor (GF) was calculated subsequently (GF = (ΔR/R0)/ε).”

Bending angle detection results. The sensor was fixed at two ends on a hinge. The gauge factor (GF) was calculated by calculating the induced strain in each bending cycle.

The researchers used a load cell to apply contact pressure on the sensor as they evaluated its ability to detect pressure. Three different applied pressures were used during the experiments.

Contact pressure detection results. The inset shows the result for the smallest detectable pressure (292 Pa).

“The thermoplastic filaments facilitate the process, because no curing or post-processing is required. Furthermore, this sensor can be printed or attached on any surface (e.g. on soft actuators) and can give accurate and reliable tactile feedback. The ability to sense contact pressure and bending angle is crucial for a soft actuator and this sensor proved to be a very good candidate to develop such robotic actuators in future,” concluded the researchers.

Soft robotics continue to progress for a wide range of industrial applications, accompanied by 3D printing, whether creating new frameworks, metamaterials to work with robotics, or 4D concepts.

What do you think of this news? Let us know your thoughts! Join the discussion of this and other 3D printing topics at

[Source / Images: ‘An Ultrasensitive 3D Printed Tactile Sensor for Soft Robotics’]

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An Inside Look into the ACES Lab (Part II: TRICEP)

After peeking into some of the research labs at the ARC Centre of Excellence for Electromaterials Science (ACES), located at the Intelligent Polymer Research Institute (IPRI) in Australia’s University of Wollongong (UOW) Innovation Campus, thanks to a virtual tour by Gordon Wallace, Executive Director of ACES, audiences were able to get a first-hand look into another building at UOW. In the second part of the tour, Wallace showed the recently inaugurated Translational Research Initiative for Cell Engineering and Printing (TRICEP) and how it is leading the initiative for 3D bioprinting, encompassing bioinks, bioprinters, and bioprinting process developments, including the manufacturing of medical devices and the integration of living cells delivered using customized bioprinters to address specific medical challenges, and ultimately how they will scale up production of each of this innovations.

At TRICEP, scientists are using fundamental advances in materials science and engineering to solve real applications. The new facility was created last year to translate the advances into a manufacturable prototype or commercial product.

During this second part of the tour, Wallace explored the development of bioinks and bioprinters that will be commercially manufactured in the future, which is why the focus is more on material applications and protocol development for the manufacture of the bioinks and customized printers. A big part of what the researchers do involves exciting new developments to address very critical medical challenges, which in turn, create a commercial opportunity, according to Wallace.

“This is a great facility that incorporates the development of bioprinters, something you won’t find in a conventional university research environment, and we are taking all those 3D printing processes and making them ready for manufacture by implementing a quality management system that alows us to reallize real commercial opportunities,” suggested Wallace.


The fundamental formulation for the bioinks developed come from the IPRI lab (as seen in the first part of the virtual tour), and TRICEP researchers need to use the new facility to scale it up and make it into a reliable product, but now without some challenges. Alexander Martyn, a Synthesis and Fabrication Chemist at TRICEP, is leading the bioink revolution and said: “Everything related to upscaling is a lot different here because we have to explore every single parameter of the experiments so that when we make the larger batches of bioink, they are reliable.” 

“We usually need to go back to the source of the material. For some of the research work, small scale is easy to achieve, but here you need to know the primary source of the material to ensure quality control. Before we start making a large scale production of the bioink we have to undergo a suite of characterization to determine a high purity, which basically means determining if it is a very good product for us to work with. So first we would characterize the material to ensure the qualities and then we turn it into the bioink,” said Martyn.

Alexander Martyn showing how the 10-liter reactor works

“We start with small scale reactions, that give us between 20 and 50 grams in scale, much more than the one gram that is used for research. And then we turn to our bioreactors, one of them is a 10-liter reactor, capable of generating quantities of upto 500 grams. It is controlled by a thermoregulation unit plummerd throug the external wallls, so that we can control the temperature and collect the material. We also have a 20 litre reactor, capable of producing kilogram batches, which is the big leap into an industrial process,” he went on.


At TRICEP, researchers are using conventional 3D printers to create a range of customized 3D printers which help them address important research challenges in the medical spheres and built new tools to train the next generation of biofabricators.

Stephen Beirne, Additive Fabrication Capabilities Head at TRICEP, explained that “one of our capabilities includes printing printers. We have a range of additive fabrication tools and have recently been able to expand, even more, acquiring a Mimaki 3D printer that allows us attain components in full-colour representations, that gives more detail so that our collaborators and commercial partners get real realizations on the parts they want to produce. Overall, these systems enable us to print new components for new printing systems.”

TRICEP is a 100 percent owned University of Wollongong initiative that draws on expertise and facilities available within ACES and the Australian National Fabrication Facility (ANFF) Materials Node, both based at the UOW Innovation Campus. It houses a range of additive manufacturing technologies, including the highest resolution metal printer in Australia and the country’s leading biofabrication capability to develop biomaterials, with teams producing specialized 3D printing devices and customized bioinks to treat specific medical conditions, such as wound healing and artificial skin for burn victims.

Scaling manufacture of 3D bioprinters (Image credit: TRICEP)

TRICEP can commercialize opportunities in 3D bioprinting including printer manufacturing, biomaterials, bioinks, and material-cellular combinations to address significant industry challenges that require an exclusive, tailored solution, bringing to life novel technology from concept stage through to prototyping and manufacture of hardware and the formulation of customized bioinks to accelerate product development and rapidly decrease time to market.

Professionals at the TRICEP facility are creating and developing prototypes, making sure that these are ready to be manufactured at scale. Instead of making devices and integrating those into commercial type platforms, they are developing their own customized platforms for clinical challenges at hand, that allow for additional functionalities, such as to incorporate additional extruder or deposition techniques simultaneously as well as cross-linking methods. 

For example, they are developing a series of handheld devices that are ideal for practical use in a clinical environment. Beirne described that “to characterize the device as we are going into our experimental protocols it is ideal to be able to transfer our mounting system into a tri-axis stage or even a five-axis stage, to have fine control over the scaffold and structures that we produce, to then be able to determine the repeatability and the consistency of the printing system we have developed.”

And the best part is, they have a whole suite of these, like the iFix pen, a cornea-correcting device created in collaboration with ACES at UOW. Beirne uses metal additive fabrication, basically, two selective laser melting systems, the first has a cylindrical build volume with a maximum built height of 74 mm (probably Trumpf or Sisma), while the newest and most recent system they added to the facility is a Concept Laser that allows printing volumes of 100mm x 100mm x 100 mm. They can also print in a range of different metals, like stainless steel and titanium, allowing for high resolution, low surface roughness components that are ideal for customized prototypes. He said that some of these structures are difficult to make with conventional manufacture devices.

“Some of the printers we created have also become educational printers and are an important part of our online teaching program. We have a graduate certificate on biofabrication which is available now, and that is the course work necessary to move to to the masters of biofabrication and it is exposure to this type of printers that give high level and state-of-the-art training in 3D printing. So that our prospective engineers and bioengineers have a range of tools and capabilities for them to learn, from the fundamentals of the 3D positioning systems all the way to the development of the mechanical extrusion mechanism and temperature management to allow them to see what happens to different materials and temperature conditions, printing conditions or extrusion parameters,” said Wallace.

Researcher working at the lab (Image credit: TRICEP)

One last customized printer to look at during the tour is 3D Alek, the bioprinter that replicates human ears for patients with microtia, built in collaboration with Payal Mukherjee, a nose and throat surgeon and Associate Professor at the University of Sydney School of Medicine. All of the components were built at the facility and it is able to print three different materials, each having their individual printing speed and condition. 

The in-house ability of TRICEP researchers to develop both customized hardware and bioinks, as well as the growing clinical network, makes them uniquely placed to help companies create a complete end product that is tailor-made to combat a specific medical challenge. In addition, their extensive medical network throughout Australia helps them develop clinically relevant systems and protocols.

“All the projects are driven by real clinical needs, we are very fond of working with clinicians around the country who are really defining the challenges with us, and implementing a plan with us, and then helping us in terms of translation,” said Wallace.

You can tune in to see the second part of the virtual lab tour here.

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An Inside Look into the ACES Lab (Part I)

A leading scientist in the field of electromaterials and one of Australia’s visionary bioprinting enthusiasts Gordon Wallace took audiences through a virtual tour into the cutting edge research labs at the ARC Centre of Excellence for Electromaterials Science (ACES), where next-generation materials research and advanced engineering for the development of customized bioinks and bioprinters take place. Located within the heart of the Intelligent Polymer Research Institute (IPRI) at Australia’s University of Wollongong (UOW) Innovation Campus, ACES turns fundamental knowledge into the next generation of smart devices to improve people’s lives and deal with some of the great challenges of the century.

With his usual enthusiasm, Wallace engaged audiences as he presented fellow researchers at work and some of the new innovations, discoveries and development of new materials for use in the field of biofabrication. During the first part of the tour, he explores the development of Graphene, 3D printed stents, and cell preparation for bioprinting. For the second part of the tour (found in a separate article), Wallace walks into another building at UOW where the recently inaugurated Translational Research Initiative for Cell Engineering and Printing (TRICEP) is leading the initiative for 3D bioprinting encompassing bioink, bioprinter, and bioprinting process developments, including the manufacturing of medical devices and the integration of living cells delivered using customized bioprinters to address specific medical challenges.

“Here at ACES we are known for our fundamental work into the discovery and the development of new materials, that can be used in energy and medical bionics,” said Wallace. “We are using the most advanced methods of fabrication to develop protocols that will enable structures and devices to be created so that we can take those fundamental advances and use them in important areas.”

Starting with the basics, Wallace first explores a lab setting where Sanjeev Gambhir, a Senior Research Fellow at the Australian National Fabrication Facility (ANFF) of the University of Wollongong, develops graphene, a material he refers to as “wondrous”, with “amazing properties for the nanoworld that we have been able to extricate into the micro and macroscopic realms to realize applications.” 

“To create a graphene-polymer composite synthesis, we modify the chemistries of graphene (which is derived from graphite, a naturally occurring mineral) so that we retain all the amazing mechanical, electric and biological properties and yet make it processible, that is, to turn it into structures and devices, using 3D printing, and eventually making it scalable,” said Gambhir.

Wallace added that “it is important that all the chemistries we use are actually scalable.” He claims that it is very different doing chemistry on a bench from processing graphene into tens of grams and managing to retain the same properties and quality as they were getting on the laboratory scale. It is all part of his vision to really make the process ready for industrial-scale manufacturing.

To show how graphene is turned into fibers for easier handling, Wallace takes audiences to the Fibre Spinning Electrodes area, where researcher Javad Foroughi, “weaves the magic” to create graphene fibers, that can even be combined with biomaterials to coat the surface of the fiber.

Working on customized 3D printed stents was Ali Jeirani, a Product Designer Development Specialist at UOW. It is one of the many processes where he uses 3D printing and takes advantage of all of the advances in material synthesis and processability at ACES, by turning them into real structures. 

“One of the important parts about the properties of a stent for applications is the design. We use G-code to create different designs and then send them to our machine to print different structures and properties,” explained Jeirani. “One of the problems of commercial stents is that they cannot be personalized for the patient, so by using 3D printing, we can customize it according to the scan of the patient. We understand that there can be very complicated stent shapes that are readily realized with 3D printing.”

According to Wallace, the graphene is often blended with other materials to improve the properties of the part, and by using small amounts of graphene and blending it with a polymer, they can create the stent. The innovative material gives the stent extra mechanical properties and could even impart electrical properties into it, which the two experts consider “one of the most interesting properties of graphene for electro stimulation”. 

“This is all made possible thanks to additive fabrication and advances in 3D printing, so it is an exciting time, since we can turn fundamental discoveries into really practical and useful structures almost immediately by working together, us at the 3D fabrication lab and our colleagues at materials processes,” continued Jeirani.

Gordon Wallace and Ali Jeirani looking into how to fabricate 3D printed stents

After delving into advancements in biomaterials and graphene, Wallace headed upstairs to the cell lab where Research Fellow at ACES, Eva Tomaskovic-Crook, revealed another important part of their work: the integration of living cells into printing protocols, which basically entails how scientists prepare the cells for printing.

They have several environments ready for the cells, from storing them in liquid nitrogen sample storage tanks–they have at least two Taylor Wharton LS750– to incubating them, which offer an environment where they nurture cells and provide the right growth conditions to expand. Incubators have a warm 37-degree environment ideal for maintaining cell growth. 

“Quality control of our cells is very important. We need to be sure that the cells maintain the ability to be pluripotent (pluripotent stem cells have the ability to undergo self-renewal and to give rise to all cells of the tissues of the body). We want to scale up the number of cells and to encapsulate them in the biomaterial.” suggested Tomaskovic-Crook.

Scaling up the number of cells is crucial because when they go into the bioprinting process they want to create a three-dimensional tissue with a high cell to biomaterial mass, not just have a few cells. According to the specialist, “it involves a process of going back and forth: scaling up the cells at the lab, then printing them, and bringing them back to the lab to interrogate the cells and see if they are still living, proliferating and turning into the cells we want them to.” 

Gordon Wallace and Eva Tomaskovic-Crook talking about preparing cells for bioprinting 

Known for their expertise in advanced materials and device fabrication, ACES incorporates collaborators from across Australia and the world. ACES is generating options for the future, so being able to peek into some of the advanced materials and device fabrication for game-changing health and energy solutions is a privilege. Not only did Wallace explain some of the most breakthrough research in biomedicine, but he also showed viewers the machines that researchers work with on a daily basis. Wallace tends to emphasize that a big part of the Australian bioprinting community is about sharing research, insights, and knowledge to advance the field. The unique landscape of the country, with its cultural and linguistic diversity as well as residence to scientists from around the globe, makes it ideal for ideas and creativity to emerge.

You can tune in to see the first part of the virtual lab tour here.

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Interview with Jason Chuen: Shaping Australia’s Medical 3D Printing Environment

In Australia, vascular surgeon, Jason Chuen understands that 3D printing is the exciting next step in personalized medicine, which is why he uses 3D scans and 3D printing to deliver anatomical models. During an interview with, Chuen, who is also the Director of Vascular Surgery at Austin Health and Austin Health’s 3D Medical Printing Laboratory (3D Med Lab), suggested that “there is a lot of interest because the field of 3D printing in medicine is growing; we are seeing the doctors and researchers involved more than ever, as well as more application development originating from clinicians.”

At The University of Melbourne, in Australia, the 3D Med Lab supports 3D printing for clinical applications and runs an active research program exploring how it can be used for teaching, procedural simulation, patient education, surgical planning, and prosthetic implants. The first facility of its kind in Australia, 3D Med Lab, frequently prints models of diseased aortas to perform a “practice-run” of surgery. What makes this lab unique is that it is hospital-based, and works with many different specialties. Chuen has been looking into the landscape of medical 3D printing for many years and earlier this month along with his colleague Jasamine Coles-Black, a Doctor and Vascular Researcher at the Department of Vascular Surgery at Austin Health and the 3D Med Lab, organized the fifth annual 3D Med Australia Conference, which he claims is the only meeting of its kind in Australasia, with only one or two more around the world of a similar nature, like Materialise‘s medical 3D printing meetup in Belgium.

Normal anatomical branches on an abdominal aortic model 3D printed on MakerBot Replicator 2X FDM

Chuen and Coles-Black even begun printing out copies of patient kidneys to help surgeons at Austin Health plan the removal of kidney tumors. Moreover, Chuen understands that the immediate challenge in medical 3D printing is ensuring that medical professionals themselves are up to speed with the technology because it is their clinical experience that will drive new applications and projects. 

During our interview, Chuen asserted that the conference has once again proved that Australia is leading the way with cross institution development cooperations, ethical issues surrounding 3D printing and he looks forward to many exciting possibilities of the technology for the future.

Why was the 3D Med Conference so important to the region?

We noticed there were a lot of groups that existed previously that didn’t know about each other and the meeting has become a really good focal point for people to find out about what others are researching and selling. So rather than working on their own and almost in secret, they can join together and create projects that cross different institutions, specialties and disciplines. During the conference, at every corner I encountered groups of people from different universities and cities gathering to hatch a project, proving that there was a very cooperative atmosphere. They all clearly had common interests and discovered that they can work outside of their own space with others. 

What was so unique about the 3D Med Conference?

Because there really aren’t many meetings like this, the areas of interest are still growing, anyone who is working with these technologies have applications in different areas so that is why we have a lot of crossover between the fields. The strength of the confreence comes from encouraging people to have an overview of what was happening in the field, so rather than just understanding technical aspects of technology, everyone started to become knowledgeable about the whole landscape, for example, why we need to care about ethics and regulation, or considering the useful implications of applying techniques from a different area of science and research. 

One of the biggest challenges for 3D printing is?

One of the big problems in customized medical devices and the 3D printing space is that there is uncertainty about what will happen in the future. Apart from the guidance of the US Food and Drug Administration (FDA), there hasn’t been a lot of resources for manufacturers and researchers on how 3D printing and customized medical devices will be regulated. Australia’s own Therapeutic Goods Administration (TGA) representation in the International Medical Device Regulators Forum (IMDRF) has been very strong,particularly around 3D printing and customized medical devices. During the conference John Skerritt, Deputy Secretary of the Australian Department of Health, outlined the broad framework around the field and has engaged in a consultation process with the medical 3D printing community (and we have provided some proposals for the final documentation that will be ready soon.)

Distributed production will present new risks for ensuring the quality control of end products. It will need a fundamental shift in responsibility from the supplier to wherever the medicines or devices are manufactured. That represents a huge change and we have to work out how it could work. But if we get the regulation right then it will transform access to medical products.

Collection of 3D printed objects

What does the future of 3D printing in medicine look like?

The whole point of what we do is improve patient care, so we have to think very carefully about our next steps and analyze whether it is helpful or not. For patients, anatomical models help them see and understand the condition or surgery they plan for. We have done projects and have some conclusive evidence that patient understanding is improved with anatomical 3D printed models. 

Patients are interested to know what will happen in the future, especially with 3D printed kidneys and stents. But the truth is that that technology is very far away. We may never be able to 3D print an organ, not at least the way we imagine it to be. Realistically, if we are talking about an organ for transplantation, we have to think that no matter what the organ looks like, the question is: does it do the job? For example, if we were thinking about bioprinting in order to replace a kidney, as long as it performs the function of the kidney, it doesn’t matter what shape it comes in. And for that, we have to be able to reproduce a structure. This could be in shapes, rather than in one block, or it could be a composition of an external and an internal device, meaning we would be looking into something that is assembled. Today the technology to have the replacement kidney is available, it is a dialysis machine, yet you wouldn’t expect a dialysis machine to look like a kidney. The same is going to happen with 3D printed organs, where we need to separate the appearance and structure of the organ from the function. In the end, the function is what matters.

As such, if we were to imagine what a 3D printed heart would look like, we would need to go into the field of soft robotics or mimicking natural structures, all of that changes fundamentally how we think about organs for the human body.

How can your particular medical field benefit from 3D printing?

As a vascular surgeon, I’m also looking at 3D printed stents, and there is quite some work around that. Mainly it is based on printing something that looks like a stent, but it is very difficult to reproduce the mechanical properties of a stent using 3D printing. The benefits revolve around the different materials that could be used with 3D printing, for example, if you could reproduce a stent in a bioabsorbable plastic it would allow surgeons to deploy it with embedded drugs (like antibiotics and pain medication) that get released at a set time. There are a lot of options in terms of using multi material technology in customized implant production, as well as great precision, and that is an area where 3D printing helps. 

Ideally, we need to understand the technology to know where the errors can happen. But in general, it is improving, both in hardware and software, the challenge will be about making it accessible. We have done randomized trials around anatomical models for teaching, education and simulation. There are already some 3D printed medical devices, such as for joints and implants. It would be ideal to have assessments of the economics to determine whether the anatomical models will be worthwhile. 

How is Australia changing the paradigm of medical 3D printing?

Australia has world leading technology, but in terms of the way we have collaborated and worked together, we are quite unique. Even globally one of the big problems is finding the groups that are doing this kind of work. We have been in touch with research groups in Poland, Boston, and Toronto, even engaging with large centers like the Mayo Clinic, in Minnesota. Key collaboration between international centers are great and we are keeping an eye out for other major hubs of activity, like in China, South Korea, and Europe. We need to link up all the international groups, that’s where we see things are going!

[Image credit: 3dMedLab, Austin Health]

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nScrypt to Deliver Factory in a Tool to Australian Defense Department

The Defence Science and Technology (DST) Group of Australia’s Department of Defence has selected nScrypt’s Factory in a Tool (FiT) platform to augment its research operations.  DST is a leader in safeguarding Australia by delivering expert and impartial scientific advice, supporting current operations, and providing innovative solutions for defense, national security, and future defense capabilities.

DST selected an nScrypt 3Dn-500 Penta-Head multi-material FiT platform, which will be outfitted with a SmartPumpTM microdispensing tool head, nFD™ material extrusion tool head, Pick and Place (for electronic components and subassemblies) and nMillTM tool heads (for micromilling), and UV tool head with integrated laser and Pulse Forge photonic curing for spot curing of photopolymers.  The tool heads can operate in series or parallel on the FiT’s fast (up to 1 mps), high-precision (up to 10nm resolution, 500nm repeatability, 1 micron accuracy) linear motion gantry.  The tool heads are monitored by multiple cameras for automated in-process inspection and computer vision routines.  The system also includes a point laser height sensor for Z-tracking and mapping for conformal printing onto objects of any surface shape.

According to nScrypt’s CEO, Dr. Ken Church, 

This is one of our most advanced and versatile machines.With this tool, DST can go from CAD to a final, multi-material product with embedded electronics in a single machine, without retooling.Although the U.S. military has been a regular customer for nScrypt’s direct digital manufacturing solutions, this is nScrypt’s first sale to a foreign government agency.We are honored that Australia DST selected our tool to help support its mission.

The FiT’s SmartPumpTM  microdispensing tool head eliminates drooling with pico-liter volumetric control and boasts the widest range of materials available for any microdispensing system: more than 10,000 commercially available materials, ranging from a few centipoise (like water) to millions of centipoise (much thicker than peanut butter).  The SmartPump’s™ pen tip has what is believed to be the smallest commercially available diameter, 10 microns. 

The nFD™ extruder tool head can 3D print what nScrypt believes is the widest range of thermoplastics, composites, and continuous carbon fiber. 

About nScrypt

Founded in 2002 and headquartered in Orlando, Florida, nScrypt designs and manufactures award-winning, next-generation, high-precision microdispensing and Direct Digital Manufacturing equipment and solutions for industrial applications, with unmatched accuracy and flexibility.  Serving the printed electronics, electronics packaging, solar cell metallization, communications, printed antenna, life science, chemical/pharmaceutical, defense, space, and 3D printing industries, our equipment and solutions are widely used by the military, academic and research institutes, government agencies and national labs, and private companies. nScrypt is a 2002 spin out from Sciperio Inc., a research and development think tank specializing in cross-disciplinary solutions. The nScrypt BAT Series Bioprinter, which won the R&D 100 award in 2003, will travel to the International Space Station in 2019, in a joint program with Techshot. nScrypt Cyberfacturing Center is our direct digital contract design and manufacturing service.

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Interview with Gordon Wallace on Bioprinting Solutions to Medical Challenges

In a race to combat very specific medical challenges, Gordon Wallace has developed groundbreaking and bespoke advances in bioprinting, both in specialized 3D printing devices and customized bioinks. Along with fellow researchers at the University of Wollongong (UOW), in Australia, working with clinicians and institutions, they seek to find solutions for rare conditions, like microtia, schizophrenia, epilepsy, as well as for more common afflictions, including corneal ulcerations and damaged cartilage.

A distinguished professor at UOW, Wallace, has been working in bioprinting for the past 25 years with a background in materials science. His first foray into biotechnology was developing new electrode materials for Graeme Clark’s pioneer multi-channel Cochlear Implant for severe-to-profound deafness, and in developing those new materials Wallace realized that conventional fabrication wasn’t good enough, which quickly sparked an interest in developing new 3D printing techniques.

“We have been fortunate because all of our projects and research have been driven by our incredible clinician network throughout the country,” explained Wallace to during an interview. “This is a highly interdisciplinary field, so through collaborative efforts bioprinting has advanced a lot. Our collaboration spans from timely producers of materials, like seaweed farmers–we extract the molecules form this type of algae and use it as a source of our bioink–right through the materials processing in mechatronic engineering, designing and building applications with cell technologists and medical specialists.”

Gordon Wallace

Wallace has been identifying and customizing materials and bioprinters to deliver solutions like the BioPen for cartilage regeneration, the iFix Pen to treat corneal ulceration, bioprinter 3D Alek to reproduce the complex geometry of an external ear, leading a project to reproduce brain cells and even developed a specialist Pancreatic Islet Cell Transplantation (PICT) bioprinter. Most of the developments are taking place at the ARC Centre of Excellence for Electromaterials Science (ACES), where Wallace is Executive Director; the Translational Research Initiative for Cellular Engineering and Printing (TRICEP), which also has the expert as Director, and the Australian National Fabrication Facility (ANFF) Materials Node, based at the UOW Innovation Campus. The university and its partner institutes have quickly become some of the go-to-places for medical bioprinting advances. TRICEP is a 100% owned initiative of the UOW and can commercialize opportunities in 3D bioprinting including printer manufacturing, biomaterials, bioinks, and material-cellular combinations to address significant industry challenges that require an exclusive, tailored solution; it even houses a range of additive manufacturing technologies, including the highest resolution metal printer in Australia and the country’s leading biofabrication capability to develop biomaterials.

Back in 2014, Wallace along with researchers at the Department of Surgery at St Vincent’s Hospital Melbourne used stem cells to build 3D structures to encourage the formation of cartilage in human tissues claiming they were on the cusp of reaching their goal: “true cartilage regeneration.” Soon after, a team led by Wallace developed the BioPen, which allows surgeons to use a hand-held co-axial 3D printer pen filled with stem cell ink to ‘draw’ new cartilage into damaged knees in the middle of a surgical procedure, providing practitioners with greater control over joint repairs, and reduce surgery time. 

“The BioPen will eventually repair damaged bones, muscles and tendons, and reduce the need for joint replacements by regenerating cartilage, which we have already done in preliminary studies in animals. During this year and the next, we hope to lead some preclinical studies, and if those turn out to be successful the plan is to move into clinical trials with Professor Peter Choong, Director of Orthopaedics at St Vincent’s Hospital Melbourne. Repairing the cartilage in the knee is pretty huge in Australia because it is a sports oriented country with a big demand, especially in younger patients that might have suffered a sports-related injury, and thanks to this, they could avoid osteoarthritis later in life,” explained Wallace.

Gordon Wallace and the BioPen

Soon, other clinicians became interested in the utility of the BioPen, thinking it could be applicable to other medical disciplines, such as for treating wounds and ulcers in the eye. Gerard Sutton, Ophthalmic Surgeon and Professor of Corneal and Refractive Surgery at the Save Sight Institute, at the University of Sydney’s School of Medicine, noticed what Wallace was doing and thought that he could print a different kind of ink directly into the eye. They soon started working together to revolutionise the treatment of corneal ulceration by developing the iFix Pen, which delivers a special bioink formulation that has the capacity to facilitate healing and prevent infection in treating the disease, which causes severe eye pain, visual morbidity and visual loss, and accounts for 55,000 hospital admissions in Australia every year. The exciting new collaborative corneal bioengineering program started in 2017 and was awarded over 780 thousand US dollars for research and development. Animal testing is already underway.

The iFix Pen by Gordon Wallace and Gerard Sutton

“At the lab we use both stem cells and biomaterials. The source of the cells varies depending on the clinical application that we are pursuing, as well as the different kinds of combinations of biomaterials that constitute the bioink wich also depends upon the patient. The choice is driven by the clinical application, while optimizing performance in that specific biological environment requires a different combination of cells and materials for bioinks,” he continued.

Another very specific project is the development of a custom 3D bioprinter dedicated specifically to treating microtia, a congenital deformity that results in an underdeveloped external ear. Named 3D Alek, the machine was recently installed at the Royal Prince Alfred Hospital (RPA), in Sydney, since it was done in collaboration with associate professor and Ear, Nose and Throat surgeon at RPA, Payal Mukherjee, who treats a lot of kids who have the disease. According to Wallace, Mukherjee’s vision was to create a 3D printed external ear. Ultimately, the goal is to 3D print a living ear using a patient’s own stem cells, something the team is developing now. 

Gordon Wallace and frequent collaborator Payal Mukherjee

“But bioprinting is not without some challenges, which are still in optimizing the cells and material combinations for particular applications. Also, a general challenge in 3D printed structures for tissue regeneration is the ability to encourage vascularization of that structure so that bigger defects can be treated. I believe that it is a challenge that many groups around the world, including our own, are concerned about,” suggested Wallace. 

Challenge or no challenge, Wallace is hard at work. At the UOW Intelligent Polymer Research Institute (IPRI), which he founded and also directs, Jeremy Crook, Associate Professor at UOW and ACES, is leading a project to reproduce brain cells through bioprinting, to study conditions like schizophrenia, epilepsy, and depression. 

“Driven by clinical need, we are really interested in how diseases like epilepsy and schizophrenia develop, and one way to try and get some insights into that is to be able to 3D bioprint stem cells from the patient and try to create functional neural networks on the bench to understand how those diseases develop, as well as to gain insight into that little bit of tissue we created with bench research to test interventions, such as pharmaceutical.”

A few years back Crook and Wallace indicated that many neuropsychiatric disorders result from an imbalance of key chemicals called neurotransmitters, which are produced by specific nerve cells in the brain. Defective serotonin and GABA-producing nerve cells are implicated in schizophrenia and epilepsy while defective dopamine-producing cells are involved in Parkinson’s disease, so the team started using 3D printing and bioink to make neurones involved in producing GABA and serotonin, as well as support cells called neuroglia.

More recently, ACES researchers developed a bioprinter to help people with Type 1 diabetes, the Pancreatic Islet Cell Transplantation (PICT) 3D Printer, which works by delivering insulin-producing islet cells and is now in use at the Royal Adelaide Hospital (RAH), where Wallace and his team collaborated with RAH Professor of Medicine Toby Coates. They are planning to improve the effectiveness of islet cell transplants by encapsulating donated islet cells in a 3D printed structure, to protect them during and after transplantation. But that’s not all, many more projects are on the way, including wound healing with Chris Baker, head of dermatology at St Vincent’s Hospital Melbourne working with ACES on clinical trials; printed structures to understand airway collapse and prevention with Stuart MacKay, surgeon and Clinical Professor in Otolaryngology and Head and Neck Surgery at UOW, and even bioprinting in space, which is something Wallace says they “were recently approached about”.

“We just started to think about the ability to 3D print and create things on demand in remote locations, like space, it is an ideal application and something we are very interested in pursuing. For now, I have no real experience about how microgravity will affect bioprinting, but what an exciting experiment that would be,” claimed the expert.

According to the expert, it has taken a while to build the global collaborative network they now have, but it all seems to be coming to fruition, even some of the more complex aspects of bioprinting, like discussions about regulatory issues, something Wallace is quite involved in, as well as the engagement in ethical issues that might arise. 

“In this area, the Therapeutic Goods Administration (TGA) has been very proactive in engaging with the research, commercial and clinical community in order to try to formulate an appropriate regulatory framework that can accommodate 3D bioprinting in Australia. They are aware that the technology is moving very fast, so they want to make sure that everything is in place,” continued Wallace.

As part of the thriving academic environment at UOW, Wallace is a professor of post-graduate courses, where he noticed an increase in student interest in STEM careers and biotechnology for the last few years.

“3D printing has already revolutionized the connections between science, engineering and mathematics and our ability to be incredibly creative and make new structures. But although our courses are in high demand and even our online platform to learn about 3D printing of body parts has been popular with over 30.000 students, I still think there will be a gap between the demand and supply of professionals to fill the biotechnology positions needed for future jobs,” Wallace stated. “There is a big gap at the moment, and it will take many years to recover, so we need to engage children in the early years of school, all the way through to university.”

Gordon Wallace at ACES with the BioPen

“Today I can say that what really changed in the last five to ten years of bioprinting is the convergence of discoveries in material science, with advances in fabrication, particularly 3D printing that has really picked up the pace. We have seen more progress in the last five years than we did 15 years before that, and I think we will see incredible progress in the coming decade as that convergence matures and, particularly, as the clinical teams around the world realize what the possibilities are now in collaboration with the appropriate science and engineering groups. I’m sure many more specific challenges will come to the floor and that we will be able to meet them because of this convergence,” he concluded.

[Images: UOW, ACES, Vision Eye Institute]

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