- Blueprints for the bioprinter have been made open-access, to ensure greater freedom of use with the device at a time when research funding is harder to come by.
Cardiff University’s pharmaceutical research team created a 3D bioprinter out of standard Lego bricks, a mini Lego Mindstorms computer, and a lab pump. The concept arose from the need to obtain human tissue samples for biological research. In contrast to common bioprinters, which cost hundreds of thousands of pounds to buy, assemble, and run, this Lego 3D bioprinter can print synthetic human skin and costs only £500.
Researchers can use bioprinting technology to create more comparable models for studying both healthy and diseased tissue.
Building a Lego 3D Bioprinter
A Cardiff University research team investigated the possibility of building their own affordable 3D bioprinter after weighing several options. They chose Lego because of its versatility as well as the high precision with which it is manufactured.
A mini Lego Mindstorms computer is at the heart of the device. This device moves the dish back and forth and side to side while mechanically moving the nozzle up and down as it extrudes the cell-filled gel. Layer by layer, these programmable movements build up layers of cells to replicate the 3D structure of human tissue.
The device, once programmed, prints the cell-laden bio-ink to form 3D structures with the goal of replicating the complex forms of biological tissue.
Lego has previously been used to create more conventional 3D printers; the uncertainty surrounding this project was whether researchers could take this basic concept and engineer a variant capable of producing soft biological material.
For the output to be useful in a laboratory setting, the 3D bioprinter must be precise, dependable, and stable. A multidisciplinary team of engineers and biologists collaborated to make this vision a reality: while the current bioprinter is still in its infancy, it has achieved the level of precision required to produce delicate biological material while costing only £500 to build.
Other bioprinter modifications include using different types of nozzles to print different types of cells, allowing for a variety of complexities to be built into the cell. This technology could be used to simulate healthy and diseased skin in order to study disease progression, as well as to add diseased cells to health models.
Future of Programmable 3D Bioprinters
The bioprinter’s future plans include developing an accurate representative model of human skin from human tissue samples, as well as adding diseased cells to health models.
“The aim was to provide an open source alternative to a vital piece of equipment beyond the budgets of most researchers, particularly at a time when research funding is being squeezed. Affordable, accessible and easy to use tools for 3D bioprinting are anticipated to open opportunities for a greater number of research labs to work with 3D cell culture and bio-printed materials.”– Oliver Castell, a Senior Lecturer at Cardiff University
The researchers involved have made the blueprints open-source and detailed how they built the 3D bioprinter so that it can be rebuilt in any laboratory anywhere in the world.
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