In the spring of 2016, San Francisco-based Aether announced that its advanced Aether 1 3D bioprinter would soon be released. The company’s goal was to get the Aether 1 into the hands of researchers around the world, with a plan to launch the bioprinter in a massive collaborative effort. The technology startup released a list of institutions that would be receiving the beta version of the Aether 1, and several, including Stanford University, the University of Cambridge, the Queensland University of Technology and Spanish research institution CSIC, have already received the bioprinter. Now, it’s time for the University of South Australia (UniSA) to get their Aether 1 bioprinter.
This week, Aether announced that it has begun a project collaboration with UniSA to pursue a 3D bioprinting research breakthrough in contraception. The research project is being funded by a grant from the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, also known as the Gates Foundation.
“We’re really glad to be part of something that could help alleviate suffering in developing countries, and worldwide,” Ryan Franks, Aether CEO, told 3DPrint.com. “Knowing that this project is backed by funding from the Gates Foundation is a fantastic motivator and a great honor for everyone at Aether.”
Together with fellow philanthropist and Trustee Warren Buffett, Bill and Melinda Gates have donated billions of dollars to increase positive change around the world, mostly in the healthcare sector. The Gates Foundation is said to be the largest transparently-operated private foundation in the whole world.
“Everyone at Aether is unbelievably excited to join the Gates Foundation in making a large-scale positive impact in health and medicine,” said Franks.
So, what exactly will Aether and UniSA be doing with the Aether 1? UniSA’s successful grant application spells it out – the goal of the project is to develop an in vitro oviduct (tube through which an ovum passes from the ovary) model, which will replicate the “spermatozoa capacitation process” in order to screen natural products and novel drugs which will target this process in the oviduct, resulting in a brand new contraceptive paradigm. The model will help researchers identify male-specific contraceptive targets that prevent this important process – spermatozoa capacitation basically means the last biochemical step for spermatozoa before they have fully matured and can fertilize an egg cell. Lest any ladies get worried, the contraceptive will only affect the male spermatozoa.
The Aether 1 allows users to print simultaneously with up to 24 different materials, and includes up to eight 8 fabrication methods. The startup has already shipped some early beta units of its bioprinter to researchers, but the Blencowe Research Group at UniSA has received the first Aether 1 beta with several major upgrades, which include a powerful Computer Vision Automatic X/Y Offset Calibration System that, according to Franks, “is one of the most significant inventions in the field of 3D printing in the last 20 years.”
“Every other bioprinter’s automatic offset system is only for syringes. Aether’s Computer Vision system will allow users to easily calibrate X/Y offsets for virtually any tool. Syringes, microvalves, FDM extruders, laser engravers, drawing instruments, and much more. It’s even more accurate and repeatable than sensor based systems,” Franks told 3DPrint.com. “The ability to combine multiple fabrication tools for highly complex prints, yet calculate X/Y offsets accurately and easily, takes Aether 1’s potential to an entirely new level.”
UniSA’s Dr. Anton Blencowe is leading the ambitious project, and in addition to developing screening platforms for pharmaceuticals, including the contraceptive models supported by the Gates Foundation, the newly upgraded Aether 1 will support the UniSA research group’s 3D bioprinting program.
“The Aether printer will complement our existing facilities and add new, unparalleled capabilities, allowing us to print more complex and intricate 3D cell constructs, enabling us to target more realistic and functional screening platforms. In particular, the Aether printer will contribute to our ongoing DAAD collaboration, and Bill and Melinda Gates Grand Challenges Project to develop 3D bioprinted screening platforms for contraceptive discovery,” said Dr. Blencowe. “We are very excited to be working with the Aether Team to develop new applications for their printers, and are grateful for the team’s support and the Australian Government’s National Innovation and Science Agenda Global Connection fund for supporting this collaborative effort.”
Aether will be supporting this contraceptive research by offering their engineering and technical resources, so that the Aether 1 will be able to help the UniSA team reach its project goals. Additionally, the startup may even create new functions and features for the Aether 1, which could unlock further research possibilities for UniSA and the Gates Foundation. Discuss in the UniSA forum at 3DPB.com.[Photos: Aether]