The Future of Bioprinting Research Has a New Road Map

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Improving efficiency, optimizing technology, increasing awareness, even reducing costs and time, these are all traits that result from strategic road maps, and in the case of bioprinting, where the outcomes affect tissue engineering, bespoke outcomes for patients, regenerative therapy, and much more, having a blueprint for the entire industry seems like a bright idea. Especially when this blueprint highlights some of the challenges on the way to achieving meaningful and innovative scientific development.

Published in IOP Science’s Biofabrication Journal, “The Bioprinting Roadmap” features advances in selected applications of bioprinting and highlights the status of current developments and challenges, as well as envisioned advances in science and technology. The roadmap brings together researchers, specialists, and physicians from a myriad of universities, institutions, and hospitals around the world, combining their knowledge to focus on different aspects of bioprinting technology. These include: Jürgen Groll, professor of functional materials in medicine and dentistry at the University of Würzburg in Germany; Binil Starly, professor of mechanical engineering at North Carolina State University; Andrew Daly, an orthopedic surgeon at Emory University Hospital; Jason Burdick, a bioengineer from the University of Pennsylvania; Gregor Skeldon, a life science medical writer at Maverex, in the UK; Wenmiao Shu, professor of biomedical engineering at the University of Strathclyde in Glasgow; Dong-woo Cho, mechanical engineer at Pohang University of Science and Technology; Vladimir A. Mironov, chief scientific officer of 3D Bioprinting Solutions, and many more.

The roadmap focuses on a broad spectrum of topics, in a detailed and readable fashion that showcases broad knowledge of the field by its authors, as well as a great deal of research that went into the making of the guide. The paper is categorized into the following sections:

  1. Charting the progress from cell expansion to 3D cell printing
  2. Examining the developments and challenges in the bioinks used for bioprinting
  3. Looking into bioprinting of stem cells
  4. Presenting a strategy for bioprinting of tissue vascular systems and tissue assembly:
  5. Examining the potential for using 3D printed biohybrid tissues as in vitro biological models for studying disease
  6. Analyzing how 3D bioprinting can be used for the development of organs-on-a-chip
  7. Biomanufacturing of multi-cellular engineered living systems
  8. Exploring how researchers are pushing boundaries with bioprinting in space
  9. Investigating the developments of bioprinting technologies

The introduction of the research work was in charge of Wei Sun, chair professor of the College of Engineering from Drexel University, in Philadelphia, and Tsinghua University in Beijing, China, who said to IOP Publishing that “there are a number of challenges to overcome, including the need for a new generation of novel bioinks with multi-functional properties to better transport, protect and grow cells during and after printing; better printing processes and printers to deliver cells with high survivability and high precision; efficient and effective crosslinking techniques and crosslinkers to maintain the structure integrity and stability after printing; integration with microfluidic devices to provide a long term and a simulated physiological environment to culture printed models.”

Wei Sun (Credit: Drexel University)

“Due to the rapid advancements in bioprinting techniques and their wide-ranging applications, the direction in which the field should advance is still evolving,” Sun went on. “The roadmap aims to address this unmet need by providing a comprehensive summary and recommendations, useful to experienced researchers and newcomers to the field alike.”

The research sheds light on the main roadblocks to overcome in the future. The specialists consider that the next technologies will use “multiple modalities” in one single platform and “novel processes, such as cell aggregate bioprinting techniques” to create scalable, structurally‐stable, and perfusable tissue constructs. But in the meantime the challenges that remain are many. In his introduction, Sun talks about the need for a new generation of novel bioninks with multifunctional properties to better transport, protect, and grow cells during and after printing; better printing processes and printers to deliver cells with high survivability and high precision; efficient and effective crosslinking techniques and crosslinkers to maintain bioink structural integrity and stability after printing, and integration with microfluidic devices to provide a long-term and a simulated physiological environment in which to culture printed models.

Other researchers highlighted the importance of further improving bioreactor-based cell-expansion systems to lower barriers to the adoption of bioprinting in regenerative medicine and tissue engineering product markets. While Skeldon and Shu suggest that stem cell bioprinting can be realized if scientists find a way to reduce the shear stress of bioprinting stem cells.

Another obstruction is the high production costs and the difficulty of having large-scale production of organoids. Jinah Jang and Dong-Woo Cho from the Pohang University of Science and Technology suggest that there have been remarkable advances to the recreation of vasculatures and large organs even though challenges remain immense.

Whereas some of the highlights of the research include novel benefits from bioprinting in space, considering that microgravity conditions enable 3D bioprinting of tissue and organ constructs of more complex geometries with voids, cavities, and tunnels; cell expansion as a critical upstream process step for cell and tissue manufacturing; the great promise of stem cells in biomedical research and applications, which through bioprinting, can be particularly positioned in 3D in relation to other cell types and/or biomaterials, as well as progress in stem cell biology and in vitro culture which is opening up new doors to regenerative medicine and better physiological cell-based assays for disease models.

With so many advances in bioprinting around the world and remaining challenges to overcome, both seasoned researchers and newcomers will find an interesting and complete summary of the bioprinting industry. This game plan can help researchers come together to create new novel processes and fill in current technological gaps, as the researchers suggest.

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