Amongst the sad Keanu Reeves figurines and modified vacuum cleaner parts, additive manufacturing is also stepping in to solve some major medical problems in ways no one predicted it would. Similar to how Makerbot and RepRap managed to cut the cost of desktop rapid prototyping, Philadelphia-based startup BioBots has been focusing their efforts on radically reducing the time and cost of finding a replacement organ.
Now – don’t go recklessly downing your White Russians and Apple Martinis expecting a new liver tomorrow – but Rapid Bio-Prototyping is going to be here sooner than one might expect.
But let’s back up for a sec…what is Rapid Bio-Prototyping, you might ask?
Extruding cells one by one similar to ABS out of a hot nozzle? Hardening Agar in a Petri dish and doing some pick-and-placing of stem cells with a laser? Not quite.
BioBots uses ‘Blue Light Technology’ (i.e. UV energy) to “Cure biomaterials rapidly without damaging cells”. These biomaterials “mimic the architecture of the extracellular matrix in which cells are suspended [and the] cells themselves can be incorporated into these constructs.” This is roughly analogous to a method used three years ago that relied upon a 3D printer to create the scaffolding of a Larynx, which new cells were grown upon.
Founded by UPenn Grads Danny Cabrera and Ricardo Solorzano, BioBots has picked up backing from Ben Franklin Technology Partners, has been a part of DreamIt Health Incubator and is in the running to win the Digital Health and Life Sciences Technologies category for the 7th annual SXSW Accelerator competition (on a side note: SXSW has had these things for 7 years?). Regardless, the best part about their machine is the incredibly low cost they are going for – just $5000 – and they’re looking for beta buyers right now.
As far as looking at the bio-printing market as a whole, the only other competitors of note are Organovo, who are selling their machines for significantly more in the hundreds-of-thousands of dollars range, and EnviroTec, who are offering a new ‘Bio 3D Printer’ for $200,000.
Needless to say, the rapid bio-prototyping industry is heating up and despite the rapid developments, FDA approvals have still not come for fully printed items…yet. However, for the time being, using 3D Printers to make organs for testing drugs without relying on cute animals seems to be the near-term use for the technology. But demand for organs is going nowhere – in fact, it is likely to rise as the population ages.
For existing 3D designers, becoming an ‘Organ Designer’ doesn’t seem too far off of a concept – in essence – it’s more likely than ever to become a Dr. Viktor Frankenstein.