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J&J’s Ethicon and FluidForm to Collaborate on Engineered Human Tissue with FRESH Bioprinting

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Carnegie Mellon University spinout company FluidForm, co-founded by Biomedical Engineering Professor Adam Feinberg, announced an agreement with Johnson and Johnson (J&J)’s medical device subsidiary Ethicon to develop 3D bioprinting solutions. Through the collaboration, the two companies will expand and use FluidForm’s patented and award-winning Freeform Reversible Embedding of Suspended Hydrogels (FRESH) bioprinting technology across various applications.

Part of Carnegie Mellon’s Bioengineered Organs Initiative, Feinberg’s lab first developed FRESH bioprinting in 2015. Since then, it has been used to rebuild functional components of the human heart, as well as for printing collagen and other soft biomaterials to build advanced scaffolds for a wide range of tissues and organ systems. FRESH uses an embedded printing approach with a temporary support gel that makes it possible to 3D print complex scaffolds using collagen in its native unmodified form.

FluidForm’s patented FRESH technology is proven to produce real functional beating human ventricles and heart valves. Image courtesy of FluidForm.

With Ethicon, FluidForm will leverage the FRESH platform to achieve specific tissue characteristics that cannot be manufactured with conventional techniques. Recreating functional human tissue for research, training, and potentially replacement could transform human health, said FluidForm.

FluidForm CEO Mike Graffeo said his team was thrilled by the impact that FRESH printing can have and excited to collaborate with a global leader in surgery like Ethicon to deliver on their joint ambitious goals. As a member of J&J’s family of companies, Ethicon has access to the firm’s 3D Printing Center, used to develop advanced applications for 3D printing in the biomedical sphere. Headed by mechanical engineer Sam Onukuri, the facility has worked with Ethicon on several projects, including developing a prototype for bioprinted knee meniscus tissue that would be suitable for surgical implants, potentially making surgery and recovery easier on patients.

About the new collaboration, Onukuri said in a LinkedIn post that collaboration is key in Johnson & Johnson’s pursuit of reimagining healthcare. “We’re pleased to partner with FluidForm, striving to meet the needs of patients around the world in ways that can’t be achieved traditionally. Together, we have the opportunity to unlock the potential of bioprinting to achieve specific tissue characteristics that can be used for the purposes of research and development, training, and more. Bioprinting can transform the way healthcare professionals diagnose, plan and care for their patients. I look forward to seeing the innovation born from this collaboration of great minds and technology!”

Additionally, Feinberg, who is also Chief Technology Officer (CTO) at FluidForm, expressed on social media that he is delighted to take this “major step forward in commercializing engineered human tissue using FRESH 3D bioprinting in partnership with Ethicon and J&J.” In fact, this new opportunity with a legacy manufacturer of medical devices for surgeries will provide FluidForm even more support to deliver on its promise of building functional tissues, organs, and therapeutic therapies that could radically transform human health and longevity.

Adam Feinberg and his team created the first full-size 3D bioprinted human heart model using their Freeform Reversible Embedding of Suspended Hydrogels (FRESH) technique. Image courtesy of Carnegie Mellon University.

Though bioprinting has achieved key milestones, Feinberg and his colleagues realized years ago that researchers were limited because soft materials were difficult to print with high fidelity beyond a few layers in height due to sag. Hurdling this key obstacle was key to the technology’s success.

After being awarded a US patent in 2018, FRESH technology was licensed to FluidForm, which is expanding the capability of 3D printing to pave the way for fabricating complete artificial organs. The startup has been building human tissue for drug discovery, surgical repair, and organ transplant. Focused on integrating its breakthrough innovations in 3D printing, computational and synthetic biology, artificial intelligence (AI) and machine learning, and advanced materials science, FluidForm is creating human tissue that is indistinguishable from the real thing.

The company’s pipeline includes development and preclinical programs addressing significant unmet needs in human health, including bioprosthetic implantable medical devices and a new generation of structurally and compositionally complex tissue models to test drug efficacy and cardiotoxicity, with an ultimate focus on tissue and organ replacement.

Through collaborations with companies, labs, and researchers, more and more papers using FRESH are getting published, like a recent one with Italian scientists to 3D print collagen with bioactive glasses for bone scaffolds. Aside from collaborations, including the latest one with Ethicon, FluidForm has developed a commercial version of the FRESH support material called LifeSupport, which is already being sold through major bioprinter manufacturers Allevi (recently acquired by 3D Systems) and Cellink.

Cellink sells LifeSupport by FluidForm, which enables bioprinting with low-viscosity bioinks to fabricate complex constructs. Image courtesy of Cellink.

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