AM Investment Strategies
AMS Spring 2023

South Korea: T&R Biofab Will Use 3D Cell Bioprinting Technology for New Stem Cell Research

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One of the leading South Korean biomedical engineering companies has been selected by the Ministry of Health and Welfare of that country to develop cell maturation technology for pluripotent stem cell-derived cardiomyocytes, by combining and integrating 3D cell bioprinting and microculture environment control technology.

T&R Biofab mainly manufactures bioresorbable scaffolds that aid in the regeneration and reconstruction of tissues and organs using innovative 3D printing technology. The company was founded in 2013 by leveraging 10 years of accumulated research and expertise at Pohang University of Science and Technology (POSTECH) and has seen significant growth in the last few years.

Now it has been selected as a general research institute for a stem cell and regenerative medicine commercialization project that seeks to establish drug response characteristic information of cardiomyocytes derived from starch-potent stem cell lines using resources from the national stem cell bank.

As reported by the Korea Biomedical Review, T&R Biofab will combine various elements and 3D cell printing technologies to develop, promote, and mass-produce a cardiomyocyte maturation-promoting product that can function like human adult myocardial cells. Cardiomyocyte cells make up the heart muscle and are primarily involved in the contractile function of the heart that enables the pumping of blood around the body. The ultimate goal of the firm is to market the end-product, as it does with most of their other inventions, like their deCelluid hydrogel tissue-derived bioink or the hybrid bioprinter, which the company claims has the core technology to develop artificial organs such as skin, heart, and liver.

Human cardiomyocytes are a key resource in the field of cardiac toxicity evaluation and cardiac disease cell therapy in the development of new drugs. Cardiotoxicity is a well-known side effect of several cytotoxic drugs and can lead to death. The term is generally used to refer to cardiac dysfunction and failure, however, new cancer therapies are also known to increase the occurrence of myocardial ischemia (when the myocardium becomes obstructed) and have indirect cardiotoxic effects through the development of hypertension. Even radiotherapy has been determined to result in broad cardiotoxic effects.

The company has suggested that, up until now, pluripotent stem cell-derived cardiomyocytes have been immature and known to cause several problems in the development of cell therapy, such as arrhythmia in preclinical animal experiments. In fact, according to a recently published review on the use of human-induced pluripotent stem cell-derived cardiomyocytes in preclinical cancer drug cardiotoxicity testing suggested that research, in general, “is hampered by the reliance on whole-animal models of cardiotoxicity that may fail to reflect the fundamental biology or cardiotoxic responses of the human myocardium” and that “the emergence of human-induced pluripotent stem cell-derived cardiomyocytes as an in vitro research tool holds great promise for understanding drug-induced cardiotoxicity.”

3D bioprinting of human tissues and organs has been revolutionizing tissue engineering for several years, helping researchers move past animal models. In fact, many scientists have used the technology to study in vitro tissue models of cardiac cells, even some already using human embryonic stem cell-derived cardiomyocytes.

Moving one step further, and using 3D bioprinting technology as the basis of their new investigation, the venture firm will conduct studies in collaboration with researchers from the Department of Biomedical Sciences, at Seoul National University College of Medicine, until December 2022, with a government grant of 825 million South Korean won, which is estimated at 682.718 dollars.

T&R Biofab 3D bioprinte (Credit: T&R Biofab)

Centered around the exploration of the optimal myocardial cell maturation technology, the researchers will seek to evaluate the effectiveness of an induction technique for myocardial cell maturation; establish an evaluation method for maturation, and finally develop a prototype for promoting myocardial cell maturation.

Once their task is successfully completed and provides useful cell resource reference data that can be used for toxicity evaluation of new drug development, they can move on to develop and commercialize the products that promote cardiomyocyte maturation to function similar to that of human adults.

Sung-Hwan Moon, a T&R Biofab executive said that “if we can develop a technique to induce cardiomyocyte maturation, we will also be able to develop a highly functional stem cell treatment that overcomes the limitations of existing stem cell therapy treatments which up to now had meager therapeutic effects.” He also suggested that the research “will lead to the development of a toxicological evaluation platform for mature cardiomyocyte-based drugs and in vitro disease modeling as well as for bioartificial organs.”

T&R Biofab has publicly claimed their desire to be the best biomedical engineering company in the world, capable of printing human organs and tissues in vitro for clinical transplantation. This is the focus for most bioprinting companies around the world, however, T&R Biofab is moving fast. Founded by Yun Wonsoo, a professor of mechanical engineering at the Korea Polytechnic University, the firm already has eight bioprinting related patents and over 35 3D printing patents, moving the technology into new research stages. The demand for their products in the Asian 3D cell model market has gained them recognition in the region. Furthermore, with this new development, we could see how they get closer to their original target.

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