3d printer creates living tissue

The expert: Fabien Guillemot. With a doctorate in materials science from Rennes National Institute of Applied Sciences (INSA), Guillemot is a researcher at Bordeaux National Institute for Health and Medical Research (INSERM) and the founder and CEO of Poeitis, a company founded in September 2014 to develop the process of laser bioprinting.

Can we really talk about printing living tissue in 3d?Fabien Guillemot: While it does indeed involve printing a pattern of living cells and an organic material such as collagen in 3D to recreate the structure of living tissue, we prefer to call it “bioprinting”. The technique is, of course, very different to 3D printing which involves depositing successive layers of plastic or metal material. Our printing technique can even use multiple materials, as we have several kinds of cells and extracellular matrices – up to five in fact!
To read: Tailor-made hips printed in 3D

A prototype of the ModuLab printer. First the pattern is drawn on a computer using software that allows for the development of cell culture over time. The computer then directs the printer, using the laser to deposit the cells layer by layer. © Inserm/Alphanov/Ludovic Lescieux /Fabien Guillemot
Cell culture is a well-known method and has been for a long time. What do printing techniques add to it?
LaThey reconstruct tissue. Cell culture remains two-dimensional and does not recreate the structure of living tissue. We also know how to grow spheroid-shaped cells that are like little balls half a millimetre in diameter, even on biomaterial matrices (called “scaffolds”). But these techniques do not recreate the complexity of living material at all, especially in terms of the interactions between cells and between cells and the extracellular matrix. Bioprinting, which builds patterns accurately layer by layer, is moving far closer to this.
Laser bioprinting: quick, accurate and effectiveDevelopment of this technique began in 2005 at the French National Institute for Health and Medical Research (INSERM) in partnership with university laboratories. It involves depositing “ink” containing a high concentration of cells, or the extracellular matrix, onto a glass surface. A blue laser beam is reflected by a mobile mirror controlled by computer. It passes through the glass, extracts micro-droplets at a rate of 10,000 per second and projects them where directed. The resolution is excellent: the jet has roughly the same diameter as a cell (around 20 microns).In addition, the process does not damage the cells – unlike other bioprinting techniques that all use small valves to extract the cells from a sealed reservoir and project them through an orifice, resulting in higher cell mortality.

Is it controlled by computer?
Yes. The IT side is essential and significantly widens the scope. We build the tissue the way an engineer works in CAD. This opens up possibilities for personalization, for example (recreating a specific structure).
Does that mean we can build complete tissue or even an organ?We are still a long way off this. We are currently working to create a skin model using adult stem cells and skin cells. We are also working on a cornea model. The pharmaceutical and cosmetics industries have an ever increasing need for this kind of tissue to test the efficiency and toxicity of molecules they are interested in. As regulations on animals in laboratories are getting tighter, skin models are becoming attractive prospects for testing.To read: Can science do without animals?The idea of an artificial liver or kidney is currently confined to the realm of science fiction, but research is continuing. In the midterm, we hope to be able to create individual tissue models (with the patient’s cells), which would enable us to test the patient’s response to various forms of treatment and choose the most effective one. In the longer term, it will be possible to create made-to-measure grafts for transplant onto patients.
These green and blue shapes are corneal fibroblasts created from stem cells deposited by a prototype laser printer. These tests being carried out at Bordeaux tissue bioengineering laboratory (Biotis) show that one day it will be possible to recreate real living tissue with sufficient accuracy. © Inserm/UMR 1026

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