The Allevi Academy is Taking Bioprinting to Schools

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In May 2015, the US Bureau of Labor Statistics reported that there are nearly 8.6 million STEM—science, technology, engineering, and mathematics—jobs. This number represents 6.2 percent of US employment, with computer occupations making up nearly 45 percent of STEM employment, and engineers an additional 19 percent. But some STEM positions were among the smallest occupations in the country, including mathematical technicians, with only 820 jobs; astronomers and mathematical science occupations, each with less than 2,000 employed in the entire country. School is a decisive time to expose students to careers in STEM, which experts consider will be the most sought after professions in the future. Ninety-three out of 100 STEM occupations had wages above the US national average and nearly double the national average wage for non-STEM occupations ($45,700).

If anything, all this data tells us that students should be preparing for tomorrow today, and 3D printing can help on the way, something bioprinting company Allevi understands. It is one of the big players trying to break the boundaries of bioengineering, leading the way with their easy-to-use and cost-efficient bioprinters, software and, since last year, Allevi has been looking into revolutionizing the education experience via their Allevi Academy, a partnership with educators across the United States to prepare today’s students for the regenerative medicine challenges of the future.

Elementary school children interact with bioprinting technology in the classroom with the Allevi Academy

Allevi calls it “cutting edge biotechnology for tomorrow’s leaders”. Their curriculum is made up of four courses that empower teachers to educate students on the principles and foundations of 3D bioprinting and tissue engineering. Each course includes a lesson plan with teacher notes and answers along with student labs and activities, as well as bioinks and consumables needed to run experiments for the entire class. The focus of the Allevi Education Curriculum is to enhance and develop talent for the future of regenerative medicine, which is where the industry is going. The main goals include providing students with a hands-on interactive experience to go from a design to a prototype; adaptability so that they can apply the skills and resources, and ways to address real-world applications and techniques used in research.

An increased interest in bioprinting has pushed companies like Allevi to enhance their 3D printing systems and develop new tools researchers can use. Their desktop bioprinters, bioinks and software serve the academic community in universities and health centers such as the Brigham and Women’s Hospital of Boston, the University of Pennsylvania, Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT), Stanford University and many more.

“There has been tremendous growth in STEM programs at a K-12 level and a steady rise in Biomedical Engineering jobs as increasing numbers of technologies and applications to medical equipment devices continue to come to market. We created our Allevi curriculum to expose students to biomedical engineering lab procedures at a younger age, provide a hands on interactive experience with 3D bioprinting and help prepare them for real world applications and techniques used in biomedical research. We are constantly inspired by our community of users and are excited to see what tomorrow’s leaders accomplish on our 3D bioprinters,” said Ricky Solorzano, founder and CEO of Allevi, to 3DPrint.com.

Ricky Solorzano CEO of Allevi

Biomedical engineering is one of the fastest-growing jobs in the United States, with a projected increase of 61.7 percent by 2020. So the big question here is whether people will be skilled and readily-available to apply to this type of jobs in the next few years. According to Allevi, people aren’t suited with the skills required of STEM jobs because STEM education isn’t an opportunity for many, nor is it something being ingrained or even presented early enough – or often enough – in a child’s life. 

A CaSE report shows that diversity in science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) is much needed, but by all measures, progress is too slow. There is an estimated annual shortfall in domestic supply of around 40,000 new STEM skilled workers in the UK alone.

Another recent Pew Research Center survey reveals that about half of adults (52%) say the main reason young people don’t pursue STEM degrees is they think these subjects are too hard. And only a third of workers (33%) ages 25 and older with at least a bachelor’s degree have an undergraduate degree in a STEM field. Which is why the report suggests that the best way to attract more people to STEM is by providing quality schooling and an early start to encourage them into the field with repeated support over time. This means introducing these fields early on, in elementary and middle school, and creating an atmosphere where STEM clubs and activities are relevant to children’s after school activities. The importance of incorporating this knowledge has shown to be quite relevant, another study revealed that informal learning environments increase students’ interest in STEM as well as the chances a student will pursue a career in the field.

Teaching biotechnology to children is the focus of the Allevi Academy

When announcing the academy back in December, Allevi bioengineer Lauren McLeod explained that “we’re always looking to the future, how to prepare for future challenges, how to revolutionize and improve on current research and methodologies.

“We took some time to think about the education experiences that got us to where we are today. Most of us conjured up memories of an impressionable teacher, exciting project, or even an awesome field trip that sparked an excitement for learning and science. We thought to ourselves, ‘Why not have bioprinting be the seed of students’ excitement and learning for the field of bioengineering?’.”

The Allevi Education Curriculum seems thorough, with a content outline that goes from the creative process of generating, developing, and communicating new ideas, to the design (using CAD and G-Code), material preparation (usually done by the teachers), printing and post-print crosslinking, analysis of printed material testing, and real-world applications. The proposed general structure for all kits involves characterizing the material’s structure, properties, and printability; as well as designing a prototype. In order to be able to help each student in every stage of the bioprinting learning process, Allevi has three difficulty levels, from beginner (with a lot of guidance on engineering, drawing and student replication) to moderate, and finally the advanced level, which allows students to choose their own direction/application and create a novel solution.

Students learn skills with easy to use tools in bioengineering, developing valuable skills across multiple disciplines. Using coding, computer-aided design, and 3D fabrication they are able to produce innovative solutions for situations modeled after real-life tissue engineering challenges. The Allevi machines supplied can print a wide range of materials, giving the instructors and students the opportunity to conduct experiments on the platform.

Allevi collaborated with a local high school in Pennsylvania to create the Allevi curriculum and now have several users across the United States. They have also offered seminars for K-12 students to provide hands-on 3D bioprinting experience. As a relatively new product offering, they are looking to expand to other schools and universities throughout the US and hopefully globally.

Seminars for K-12 students

A few months back, Solorzano told 3DPrint.com that everyone who is working at the company is looking to empower research labs so that they can execute their ideas at a price that is cost-effective. Now, they are taking that same approach with young kids and adolescents, getting them motivated to use the printers and do the work in 3D, to understand the forces behind the materials in bioprinting, and prepare to become skillful, creative and avant-guard individuals ready to pursue careers in some of the most challenging and robust environments.

“We had so many high school teachers approach us, interested in teaching bioprinting skills to their students, so we developed a simple curriculum with a walkthrough bioinks and different strategies for bioprinting, like making small blood vessels in a gel,” he said.

Students try bioprinting with the Allevi Academy Curriculum

Solorzano also recalled that “people working in computer sciences used to require a doctoral degree, so in order to do coding or computer engineering, they required a complex degree of knowledge because there was no standardization. But as we get closer to standardizing engineering principles in biology we are going to see more college grads go straight into the workforce. Meaning that it will be a higher paying job with more impact at an earlier standpoint, but to be able to get there, we need the tools to provide that mask of standardization and allow the input of creativity.”

[Images: Allevi]

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