The theory is actually quite straight-forward: A blueprint of a liver, some adhesive cell mass, a 3D printer – and the new organ is finished. Actually, years of research and brilliant minds are behind the Cellbricks 3D-printing system: The first challenge, according to Dr. Lutz Kloke, biologist and founder of Cellbricks, consisted in finding an “adhesive” which allows cells not only to stick together, but also in which they will feel entirely comfortable. After the right formula was discovered, they still needed a special 3D printer. Typical models spray drops of cell mass into shape using nozzles – an imprecise procedure, too crude for our requirements. What we needed was a solution that could print the finest structures and vessels.
For Cellbricks, we implement key technologies whose roots are not in biotechnology, but actually in IT, AI and process engineering:
Markus Turber, managing director of Intuity: “At first, the challenge of developing a 3D-printer system for living organoids was totally crazy and fascinating. The team tinkered with the hardware and software enthusiastically for months. The resulting 3D organ printer is now one-of-a-kind on the market, and its printed results are unbelievably precise.”
Intuity has developed a 3D tissue printer for Cellbricks with a particularly high resolution and the capacity to print different types of cells. This makes it possible to produce even the fine vascular structures which are necessary for organs and tissues. With this printer, Cellbricks is capable of printing three-dimensional living tissue which grows through cell division. Some mini-organs can already be cultivated for several months. The highly professional BioPrinter features an intuitive user interface which enables professional tissue printing in just a few steps and makes the process visually tangible.
Worldwide, only a few teams of scientists have solidly-grounded knowledge of printing organs and cell tissues. Cellbricks is one of them: They have patented materials which allow the startup to model dimensionally stable cells without negatively impacting the cells’ metabolic processes: The cells are happy to be printed. They divide and continue to grow according to their biological blueprints.
Thanks to falling costs due to the automation of printing technology, printed model organisms will also be implemented in human medicine in the near future. For example, mini-organs of cancer patients can be replicated a hundred times over to test for the right medicine and dosage. Model organs from human cells can be printed on chips which safeguard the metabolic cycle and organ maintenance. Using this chip, medicines can be introduced into the metabolic cycle and tested during the research phase on living human model organs. This will soon make countless animal tests unnecessary. And if an active ingredient fails to demonstrate the desired effect on the printed organ, or if side effects occur, the need for extremely expensive clinical studies will be eliminated. We are hopeful, for example, that using personalized organ-on-a-chip tests, it will be possible to reduce pain and unnecessary discomfort caused by incorrect chemotherapy and dramatically improve the chances of recovery.
In a few decades, replacement organs – printed from the body’s own cells – will replace donor organs, which are much too scarce. The probability that the new organ will be rejected can thus be lowered dramatically. Another conceivable step is the development of entirely new organs which take on functional tasks in the human body: from the production of endogenous materials such as insulin down to specific medicines for chronic illnesses. But that’s not all: In the future, various blueprints for bioprinting will be stored in a digital library. These can be retrieved rapidly and easily from the cloud. So a patient needs a new coronary artery for his heart? In the future, it will be possible to download the appropriate model and print it out using the patient’s own cells. It’s hard to imagine a more direct and effective way for technology to benefit people.
Today, Cellbricks already enables printed biological materials to be used in laboratories for testing drug agents on human models without risk to human subjects. Without extensive experience in 3D data modeling, some biologists are still unable to access this technology. Our goal is to create an ecosystem that allows biologists to print live biological materials. That is why we developed the Bloodline 3D bioprinting software. The Bloodline prototype demonstrates the first and perhaps the most important function of the software – working vascularization. We received a prize for Bloodline at “Start-up Competition – Digital Innovation” from the German Federal Ministry of Economics and Energy at CeBIT in March 2017, a special milestone for us.