Bioprinting at high resolution: 3D printing accurate and customizable models

A new project led by the Vienna University of Technology (Austria) has developed a new bioprinting process that allows for highly precise 3D scaffolds to be printed at speeds of 1 meter per second.

The team uses a bioink to embed cells into the scaffold, and with their new findings, 3D-printed scaffolds could potentially become progressively accurate and customizable.

Cells spreading in a microstructure
Figure 1. Cells spreading in a microstructure: Cells spreading in a 3D scaffold – from left to right: week 1, week 3 week 5. Top: 3D setup, bottom: one layer only. Credit: TU Wien

The study was led by three different institutes at the university: the Institute of Materials Science and Technology, theInstitute of Applied Synthetic Chemistry and the Institute of Lightweight Structures and Structural Biomechanics.

The university’s new 3D printing technology and the materials used within it are being commercialized by their spin-off company UPNano GmbH.

The research allows for high resolution bioprinting utilizing a method researchers at the university have used for years, known as the two-photon polymerization method. It involves a chemical reaction that commences when a bioink molecule absorbs two photons at once, which is only possible when the photon beam is of a high enough intensity.

This process results in these specific molecules hardening whilst the rest of the bioink remains as a liquid. Thus, detailed structures with high precision can be printed.

Further benefits of the two-photon polymerization method include the use of cell-friendly materials, allowing for the high-speed processing of the bioprinted scaffolds. This is especially important as there is the chance of the cells dying within just a few hours of being printed.

Aleksandr Ovsianikov, the head of the 3D Printing and Biofabrication research group at the Institute of Materials Science and Technology, highlighted future functions for their research by stating: 

“Using these 3D scaffolds, it is possible to investigate the behavior of cells with previously unattainable accuracy. It is possible to study the spread of diseases, and if stem cells are used, it is even possible to produce tailor-made tissue in this way”.

Sources: Dobos A, Van Hoorick J, Steiger W et al. Thiol–gelatin–norbornene bioink for laser‐based high‐definition bioprintingAdv. Healthc. Mater. doi: 10.1002/adhm.201900752 (Epub ahead of print) (2019);


What is a ‘bioink’?

‘Bioink’ is the term coined for the substance used to 3D print engineered tissue. Many different biomolecules and biological materials may constitute a bioink, but there is an increasing trend to adopt stem cells into different matrices to produce personalized tissue models or even implantable components. Having said that, while the technology exists, the reality of bioink-derived implants (or even organs) is still a long way away!

Find out more about bioinks in these picks from the Editor:

What use would tailor-made tissues have?

Just like in many areas of preclinical and clinical medicine, the future undeniably lies in personalization. Custom-made tissue models could, in the future, allow for pre-administrative drug screening and toxicity testing, for example. If different chemotherapy treatment strategies could be tested on personalized tumor tissues, for example, the patient may benefit from a more comfortable, effective and economical treatment experience, and the same is true in many areas of medicine!

Another point to consider is how these tissues may also reduce the demand for animal models, especially at the earlier stages of the drug development pipeline. 

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