Cellink Turns to 3D Printing Tumors to Combat Cancer

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It may seem counterintuitive, but the Swedish biotech company Cellink is actually fabricating tumors in an effort to combat cancer. The company, which exploded on the scene in 2016, has risen to fame as a result of their biological ink, designed to be used by a variety of 3D printers to create different types of cell tissues. The founders, Erik Gatenholm and Hector Martinez Avila, then went on to create a tissue printing 3D printer that sells for only $10k and the demand has been phenomenal.

The market for bioprinting is expected to triple between 2016 and 2021, to around $1,33 bn. [Image courtesy of Cellink]

The company has been in the news so often, it’s nearly exhausting trying to keep up, but their latest activity is one that has garnered great interest both in and outside of the 3D printing community. The company announced on Monday that they have signed a partnership with CTI Biotech, a French company based in Lyon, to fabricate tumors that can be used for pharmaceuticals testing. The ability to mix their own inks with cells from patients’ cancers will allow them to produce tumors that can be subjected to intense research without endangering human lives. As Gatenholm explained in an interview with Business Insider Nordic:

“You will be able to see how a tumor grows and how it would respond to different treatments. It’s a very relevant and a realistic model for research.”

Cellink sells both the 3D printers and the bio-ink. The printers are priced between $10,000 and $39,000. [Image courtesy of Cellink]

Currently, Cellink produces bioprinted noses and ears for cosmetics and medical research, as well as creating cubes comprised of cells that can allow researchers to experiment with human organ cells. Branching out into the production of tumors is less of a leap and more of an expansion, and the implications are profound. Developing new medicines to combat cancer is both a high priority for the public and something that can only necessarily proceed slowly as the cancer itself lives inside of a person, who cannot simply be subject to any and all ideas about what might combat the disease. This means that a slow, cautious approach can strangle some innovative ideas or simply create interminable roadblocks to the advancement of others.

The ability to use bioink to create tumors frees researchers of the many ethical concerns associated with testing as well as reduces the costs associated with such research activities. Currently, a great deal of the medical testing being undertaken to advance cancer treatments occurs on animals, something that Cellink hopes will be able to be replaced with these made-in-the-lab tumors. The driving idea is that not only will new methods of addressing cancerous tumors be able to be developed, but that also medical researchers can begin to explore personalized means of delivering cancer treatments, hopefully with fewer negative side effects.

Cellink’s founders Hector Martinez Avila (left) and Erik Gatenholm (right), with Cellink CCO Ariel Kramer at Nasdaq First North for the IPO. [Image courtesy of Business Insider Nordic]

This effort is part of Cellink’s mission to be a global leader in bioprinting and to change the face of medicine as we know it. In addition, they hope to one day be able to print human organs, although, Gatenholm admits, that possibility is still most likely 15 to 20 years in the future. Interest in their ideas has been strong and confidence in their company continues to grow, as demonstrated by the fact that only 10 months after the company was founded, there was a 1000% oversubscription to their IPO. During their first year, they have already reached profitability, something not common for tech startups.

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