Low-cost 3D bioprinter has potential for biomedical breakthroughs

2 min read

Researchers have developed a low-cost 3D bioprinter by modifying a standard desktop 3D printer, an open-source development that could lead to the more rapid development of biomedical technologies.

The researchers – from Carnegie Mellon University’s Materials Science and Engineering (MSE) and Biomedical Engineering (BME) Associate Professor Adam Feinberg, BME postdoctoral fellow TJ Hinton, and recent MSE graduate Kira Pusch - recently published a paper in HardwareX. The paper contains instructions for printing and installing the syringe-based, large volume extruder (LVE) to modify many commercial plastic printers.

"What we've created is a large volume syringe pump extruder that works with almost any open source fused deposition modelling (FDM) printer,” said Pusch. " This means that it's an inexpensive and relatively easy adaptation for people who use 3D printers."

In a paper titled Large volume syringe pump extruder for desktop 3D printers, the team explain that most commercial 3D bioprinters range from $10,000 to over $200,000 and are typically proprietary machines, closed-source, and difficult to modify.

"Essentially, we've developed a bioprinter that you can build for under $500, that I would argue is at least on par with many that cost far more money," said Feinberg, who is also a member of the Bioengineered Organs Initiative at Carnegie Mellon. "Most 3D bioprinters start between $10K and $20K. This is significantly cheaper, and we provide very detailed instructional videos. It's really about democratising technology and trying to get it into more people's hands."

As well as reducing costs, LVE also allows users to print artificial human tissue on a larger scale and at higher resolution, giving researchers, makers, and professionals the ability to experiment with 3D printing biomaterials and fluids.

"Usually there's a trade-off because when the systems dispense smaller amounts of material, we have more control and can print small items with high resolution, but as systems get bigger, various challenges arise,” said Feinberg. “The LVE 3D bioprinter allows us to print much larger tissue scaffolds, at the scale of an entire human heart, with high quality."

"Bioprinting has historically been limited in volume, so essentially the goal is to just scale up the process without sacrificing detail and quality of the print," said Pusch.

PrintrBot Simple Metal modified with the LVE (Adam Feinberg/HardwareX)

In their paper, the researchers demonstrated the system using alginate, a common biomaterial for 3D printing, and using the lab's Freeform Reversible Embedding of Suspended Hydrogels (FRESH) technique.

Feinberg's lab aims to produce open source biomedical research that other researchers can expand upon. By making their research widely accessible, Feinberg's lab hopes to seed innovation widely, to encourage the rapid development of biomedical technologies to save lives.

"We envision this as being the first of many technologies that we push into the open source environment to drive the field forward," he said. "It's something we really believe in."