Every story about 3D bioprinting represents an exciting, potentially lifesaving development, and one of the most quickly advancing developments in bioprinting lately has been that of 3D printed skin. In January, a collaboration between several Spanish institutions resulted in the creation of a 3D printer capable of printing actual, functional human skin. That research was documented in a paper entitled “3D bioprinting of functional human skin: production and in vivo analysis.” Lead author Nieves Cubo Mateo is a researcher at the Spanish National Research Council (Consejo Superior de Investigaciones Científicas, or CSIC).
CSIC has now become one of the latest institutions to receive a beta unit of an Aether 1 bioprinter from Aether, which first appeared a little over a year ago with news of a soon-to-be-released bioprinter that can print with up to 24 materials and features 8 different fabrication methods. Towards the end of 2016, Aether announced that they would be supplying beta units of the Aether 1 to multiple universities and research organizations for a large-scale collaborative research project involving the bioprinters. The project officially kicked off in February with the first shipment of a beta unit to the University of Cambridge, and now Aether has confirmed that CSIC, the largest research institution in Spain and the third largest in Europe, is next on the list.
CSIC will use the Aether 1 to conduct experimental research involving the combination of multiple materials and multiple fabrication methods – which the Aether 1 lends itself to perfectly. Also receiving a beta unit will be the Queensland University of Technology (QUT), a university that has become well-known for its advanced work with biofabrication, and particularly for its work in taking 3D bioprinting from the lab directly into a hospital environment. It’s one of the few universities to offer an advanced degree in biofabrication, in fact, and its Centre for Regenerative Medicine is directed by Professor Dietmar W. Hutmacher, who has been responsible for multiple breakthroughs in bioprinting. Hutmacher is also the director of the Australian Research Council (ARC) Training Centre in Additive Biomanufacturing, in which QUT’s Dr. Nathan Castro and several PhD students will use the Aether 1 for their research.
“We’ve been totally blown away by the level of interest we’ve received. With QUT and CSIC I was literally reading articles about the outstanding work they were doing, and soon after received requests from them to be Aether beta users,” said Ryan Franks, CEO of Aether. “It seems like almost everyone on the forefront of bioprinting innovation wants to expand the possibilities of their research by taking advantage of Aether 1’s unique capabilities. There’s still a lot of debugging to do and improvements to make, but at this point I believe Aether 1’s potential is obvious for all to see. It’s only a matter of time until this ‘beta’ printer becomes the highly refined and truly revolutionary machine that sparks the bioprinting revolution.”
Aether has been working hard to scale up production of the Aether 1 to meet the demand, and their goal is to ship out several units this month to beta customers that have been waiting, and then begin building new ones to ship out to QUT, CSIC, and other beta customers that have not yet been announced. One future beta user will be the National University of Singapore, which worked with Hutmacher on the development of FDA-approved biodegradable scaffolds that, according to biomedical company Osteopore International, have benefited thousands of patients.Meanwhile, research at the University of Cambridge is going well. Aether CTO Eric Bennett recently took a two-week trip to the UK to work with Dr. Yan Yan Shery Huang’s Biointerface research group and to receive feedback on how the Aether 1 is performing. Bennett took the opportunity to repair bugs and make improvements to the 3D printer, as well as to incorporate a module customized for Dr. Huang’s work, which involves – among other things – the new field of low-voltage continuous electrospinning patterning. Aether expects to make the Aether 1 available for commercial purchase sometime in 2017.
We talked recently with Aether’s CEO, who is as optimistic as ever about the prospects for the bioprinter.
“The research of Dr. Huang’s Biointerface at Cambrige is really something special,” Franks tells 3DPrint.com. “I think in the very near future when people learn more about what her group is doing, it’s going to open up a whole new world, a whole new area of bioprinting research that can really help people in a meaningful way. CSIC and QUT are both really on the cutting edge of bioprinting. Now with Aether 1 providing them early access to all new bioprinting capabilities, I think the potential of their research is going to skyrocket. The amount of good that can be done in this field is really a wonderful thing.”
While as with many new technologies, there have been rumors swirling that the Aether 1 doesn’t exist at all, or that Aether itself is a fake company, it seems that these are unfounded, especially as we are afforded a look right into the work being done at Cambridge.
As Franks told us, “When we first announced Aether 1 a year ago, we knew people would be shocked. But we didn’t know how much skepticism there would actually be. A surprisingly large number of people just thought the product itself was too good to be true, no one device could have all those capabilities, and if by some miracle it was true, no one would sell it for such a low price. It was fun watching the crazy rumors, but we’re glad to finally be able to show people Aether 1 is very real, and it really will be used as a means to make an enormous positive impact.”
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