It is not always easy to obtain human tissue samples for biological research, although they can be obtained through organ donation or from surgically removed tissue.
And it’s not just because there are a limited number of human tissue samples. There is also limited availability of tissue samples of the exact size and type needed for many projects running at the same time.
That is why Sean Coleman, Senior Lecturer at the College of Pharmacy and Pharmaceutical Sciences, Chris Thomas, Senior Lecturer and Director of Research at the College of Pharmacy and Pharmaceutical Sciences, and Oliver Castell, Senior Lecturer at the College of Pharmacy and Pharmaceutical Sciences, Cardiff University decided to solve this problem by creating an inexpensive and an easily accessible printer capable of creating human tissue samples using one of the world’s most popular toys.
The advent of 3D bioprinting has provided a potential solution to the problem of obtaining tissue samples. This technology involves loading “bio-ink” containing living cells into a cartridge.
This in turn is loaded into the dynamic printer. Once programmed, the bioprinter prints bioink filled with cells to form 3D structures designed to replicate the complex configuration of biological tissues.
Unlike two-dimensional cell cultures grown on plates, bioprinters allow scientists to grow cells in three dimensions. This better reproduces the complex geometry of human biology. In other words, bioprinting technology allows researchers to create models that are more amenable to the comparative study of healthy and diseased tissues. The problem is that these machines are very expensive – tens or even hundreds of thousands of pounds. Few research groups can expand their budget to cover such costs, no matter how groundbreaking the technology promises.
This prompted the researchers to wonder if they could create an affordable biological 3D printer. And the answer was yes, and I decided to do it with Lego.
Anyone who has ever fiddled with them knows that Lego is not only extremely cheap and versatile, but also made to very high precision from standard parts available for all parts.
The researchers also learned that Lego had already been used to build traditional 3D printers. However, it remains unclear whether we can take the basic idea behind the Lego 3D printer, which prints hard 3D structures out of plastic, and develop a printer capable of printing soft biological materials.
The output must be accurate, reliable and stable so that it can be used in the laboratory.
The researchers set to work on a high-tech, affordable bioprinter in a corner of a Cardiff lab using standard Lego bricks, its mechanical sub-brand Lego Mindstorms, and a lab pump, a device commonly used in research labs. A multidisciplinary team of engineers and biologists worked together to design, design, build, and program the bioprinter.
Still in its infancy, the bioprinter, which costs £500 ($624), still achieves the level of precision needed to produce precise biological material.
The nozzle ejects a gel-like substance full of cells onto the plate. The device is based on a Lego Mindstorms minicomputer. This device moves the plate back and forth and side to side by mechanically moving the nozzle up and down as it extrudes a gel full of cells.
These programmed movements create layers of cells, layer by layer, reproducing the three-dimensional structure of human tissue.
Our bioprinter is currently being used to create layers of skin cells while working on a large scale model of the skin. It can also be modified using different types of nozzles to print different types of cells, embedding different complexities into tissue samples. This is an exciting opportunity to simulate both healthy and diseased skin, explore existing treatments and develop new treatments for various skin conditions.
The bioprinter can not only provide us with an accurate, representative model of human skin, but can also be used to add diseased cells to the healthy models we produce. This will allow us to study how skin diseases develop and how healthy and diseased cells interact.
She went into detail on how to build a Lego 3D bioprinter, giving clear instructions on how to assemble the device in any lab anywhere in the world. At a time when research funding is very limited, it offers an open, affordable and low cost alternative to vital equipment that exceeds the budgets of most researchers.
Source: Science Alert