Though Additive Manufacturing Strategies (February 7-9, 2023) takes place just once a year, the verticals showcased at New York’s only 3D printing event are constantly evolving. The AMS Corner highlights these developments. Register for AMS 2023 here.
Additive manufacturing (AM) stalwart 3D Systems (NYSE: DDD) surprised the world when it kicked off major investments into the bioprinting space, acquiring startups Volumetric and Allevi. The public imagination runs wild with visions of artificial organs, such as those being developed between 3D Systems and United Therapeutics. However, under Allevi, 3D Systems is already generating results with the firm’s technology used for research and development globally. To learn more, we spoke to Taci Pereira, Vice President and General Manager of Bioprinting at 3D Systems Corporation.
Founded in 2014 with the name BioBots, Allevi was key to democratizing bioprinting for researchers around the world when it launched the first low-cost desktop bioprinter in 2015. Prior to this, the only options labs had for exploring bioprinting was either do-it-yourself systems or inaccessibly priced professional machines. Pereira explained:
“Very few people around the world were conducting bioprinting research at the time. Labs had to either be extremely well funded to buy machines that costed hundreds of thousands of dollars, or they needed to build their own bioprinters, which was a significant barrier to entry in the field. Allevi’s founders started the company because they wanted to be able to do bioprinting research and found no viable options, so they built an easy-to-use, low-cost machine and started talking to different labs that were interested in jumping into this research area.”
At $5,000, Allevi’s desktop 3D printer was about 50 times cheaper than other available bioprinters in the market, opening up a whole new world to researchers. The number of bioprinting publications from the time of its release in 2014 and the present spiked significantly, with numerous journal articles citing Allevi machines, software, protocols, and reagents. This was followed by a series of other players introducing their own low-cost systems, that further expanded the field.
At the moment, Allevi has over 500 machines out in the world, with thousands of users, and more than 200 peer-reviewed publications citing its products. Each lab relies on the brand’s cloud-based software that can connect to several machines at once. Users are able to perform anything from experiment planning to actually running the machines.
3D Systems’ R&D Bioprinting Brand
Pereira joined Allevi two years after the first system was launched, coming from the world of research herself. She had previously conducted work on tissue engineering at the Mooney Laboratory for Cell and Tissue Engineering at the Wyss Institute for Biologically Inspired Engineering at Harvard. At Allevi, she performed benchwork and applications development with the startup’s equipment and, over time, took up a variety of strategic roles before becoming Chief Scientific Officer ahead of the acquisition.
Allevi is now the bioprinting research brand of 3D Systems, commercializing bioprinters, software, materials, and services that enable the research community to innovate in the field of bioprinting to bring the world closer to translational applications. Additionally, Allevi’s tools are deployed internally, meaning that some technology developed through Allevi are being used to aid 3D Systems in the creation of bioprinting applications and solutions.
3D Systems has three other bioprinting programs being run out of its Bioprinting Headquarters in Houston, Texas.One led by Pereira is focused on drug discovery and development, in which bioprinting is used to create bioprinted preclinical models for drug testing and screening purposes. The other two are on regenerative medicine, led by 3D Systems’ founder and Chief Technology Officer for Regenerative Medicine, Chuck Hull. That division is then split into tissues more specifically and complete organs, which is performed through the company’s partnership with United Therapeutics.
“Really, we’re enabling the research community with our tools, but we’re also investing significantly in the research ourselves,” Pereira said.
3D Printing Organs-on-Chips
One specific application that is quite promising is the creation of organs-on-chips and microphysiological systems, which see 3D printed tissues integrated into microfluidic systems. Rather than replicate an entire organ system and its hundreds of functions, researchers can isolate just a few functions by bioprinting select portions of tissues with vasculature and connecting these to a pumping device. With these, a variety of agents can be transported to and from the tissue, making it possible to study the effects of compounds for drug discovery.
“You can flow different substances through the chip — through the microfluidics,” Pereira explained. “That way you can expose the cells within the chip to those substances in a more physiological manner through systemic perfusion. Then, you perform the analysis. You can image the entire issue, collect the media that you’re flowing through your chip, or harvest cells. You can then analyze the components of that media or the state of the cells to understand the chip’s function and response to different drugs or compounds of interest.”
Next Steps for 3D Systems’ Bioprinting
Additionally, the low-cost machine offered by Allevi is only an entry point into more advanced machines. While that system is designed for early work, the company is working on other systems for production. Pereira suggested that 3D Systems is the ideal company to aid Allevi in getting to the next level with bioprinting.
“Most bioprinting technologies are based on not-even-10 years of development. If you look at any bioprinter and the publications around them, you can see that there are many different applications. There’s a focus on material science, tissue engineering, regenerative medicine, but you can find anything from printing biocompatible circuits to printing meat. This really brings you back to how 3D printing started:a prototyping technology that could be applied to a variety of areas,” Pereira said.
“So, when you think of a player like 3D Systems—with decades dedicated to developing additive manufacturing solutions—for the first time, you can see all of these developments and technological foundation being applied to bioprinting. And 3D Systems was one of those players that took the technology and used it to solve real problems in different market segments within its Industrial and Healthcare businesses. The company has been able to create and capture tremendous value with that. So, we really see the opportunity for the first time in the bioprinting market to take these research and prototyping ideas through to commercial, production-level solutions.”
This means that not only can we expect 3D Systems to continue broadening the reach of bioprinting in the field of research but that, as the technology matures, we’ll see actual bioprinting for production. As the most diversified 3D printer manufacturer in the industry, we may even expect the company to be among the first to manufacture bioprinted organs for clinical use.
To learn more about bioprinting at 3D Systems, register for Additive Manufacturing Strategies (February 7-9, 2023).
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