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3D Systems and CollPlant: One Step Closer to Bioprinting Tissues for Breast Cancer Patients

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As part of an ongoing expansion into regenerative medicine, 3D printing pioneer 3D Systems (NYSE: DDD) has been infusing additional resources into bioprinting technologies that can build tissues and organ structures. In 2020, the company advanced its additive manufacturing (AM) platform for printing vascularized lung scaffolds. Then, early in 2021, it announced more investment into the commercialization of bioprinting technologies and applications, along with the acquisition of bioprinter hardware manufacturer Allevi.

3D Systems has now revealed that it plans to deliver bioprinted plant-based collagen tissues in patients receiving reconstructive surgery after undergoing mastectomies. Thanks to a partnership with long-time collaborator CollPlant Biotechnologies, an Israeli regenerative medicine company, this undertaking could potentially improve the lives of millions of breast cancer survivors.

Macro view of the 3D Systems soft tissue scaffold. Image courtesy of 3D Systems.

Through a co-development agreement, the companies have committed to creating a high-resolution 3D bioprinted soft tissue matrix to combine with an implant in breast reconstruction procedures. The result would mimic a patient’s own anatomy, enable in-growth to facilitate healing, and enhance outcomes. The soft tissue matrix is intended to support the lower portion of the breast while expanding the implant pocket and providing increased implant coverage, allowing the body to grow new tissue.

The resulting tissue matrices will use CollPlant’s “unlimited supply” of rhCollagen, a plant-based recombinant human collagen described by the company as “identical to the type I collagen produced by the human body.” Aside from several advantages over the currently available tissue-derived collagen, the production of rhCollagen does not require animal or human sources.

CollPlant’s bioink used for 3D printing. Image courtesy of CollPlant.

Collagen constitutes a highly sought-after scaffolding material for regeneration and healing applications, according to Israeli experts. Traditionally, collagen has been extracted from animal and human cadaver sources – like livestock – bearing the risk of contamination and disease transmission, allergic response, and subjected to harsh purification conditions resulting in irreversible modifications that prevent its biofunctionality.

Most breast reconstruction procedures also use soft tissue matrices derived from human cadavers or animals. However, these sources are associated with supply shortages and batch-to-batch variability, as well as the possibility for eliciting an immune response, which impacts healing. CollPlant and 3D Systems want to change the dependency on mammalian cadavers by offering an alternative source of collagen-derived tissues. Surgeons and researchers have been trying to find replacement tissues for surgical restoration and reconstruction needs, with a few promising solutions, such as a recently developed soft tissue filler that would “predictably restore and regenerate damaged tissue and tissue voids.” However, this innovative new combination that leverages bioprinting hardware and plant-based collagen could be a unique solution for surgeons.

3D bioprinted soft tissue implant with vascularization channels perfused with red ink created with 3D Systems’ stereolithography bioprinter and bioInk based on CollPlant’s rhCollagen. Image courtesy of 3D Systems.

Such a novel regenerative soft tissue matrix could increase the addressable market for soft tissue reinforcement in breast implant procedures. In addition, CollPlant CEO Yehiel Tal believes that a regenerative solution can increase safety, eliminate product variability, and enhance results by promoting new tissue growth. If the companies succeed, they will advance the field one step closer to the ultimate goal of creating functional bioprinted organs, which today appears to be a couple of decades away from becoming a reality.

For more than 2.3 million women diagnosed with breast cancer every year, 3D bioprinted matrices designed to match their anatomy to support breast implants could be a game-changing medical application—especially considering that many cancer patients require partial or full removal of breast tissue as part of a highly effective treatment to remove the disease.

Currently in development, the rhCollagen-based 3D bioprinted soft tissue matrices are being designed to meet the required physical and mechanical properties while promoting cell infiltration and proliferation, said 3D Systems. The companies believe their efforts will result in tissue matrices that offer “superior performance, consistency, and safety” due to their plant origin and “identical match” with natural human collagen, which does not elicit an adverse immune response in patients. But they are not the only ones. After the announcement on June 22, 2021, 3D Systems and CollPlant shares soared to 28% and 20%, respectively.

Ultimately, the deal will allow 3D Systems and CollPlant to explore a novel application that could offer a new reconstruction treatment for breast cancer survivors. 3D Systems President and CEO Jeffrey Graves said, “it’s inspiring to be involved in a project that has the potential to have such a positive impact on the human condition.”

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