BiologIC Technologies is using Stratasys’ full-colour, multi-material J826 3D printing platform to produce a device that seeks to scale down laboratory processes and enable scientists to design biology within a smaller footprint.
The company is one of the first in Europe, and the first in the UK, to install the machine which Stratasys launched earlier this year. Its flagship bioprocessing unit is to be prototyped and manufactured using the same technology, with J850 platforms expected to be added as the business scales.
Founded by an interdisciplinary team of biologists, engineers and semiconductor experts, BiologIC is hoping its device will become the ‘desktop PC of biology.’ The ‘lab in a box’ system features a 3D printed bioprocessing unit which plugs into a universal instrument to run a particular biological workflow. It aims to simplify existing lab processes which often comprise of scientists mixing and moving liquids to different robots, working with pieces of technology that don’t easily integrate with each other and exerting energy on manual tasks.
Harnessing Stratasys’ J826 machine, BiologIC is able to utilise the VeroUltraClear material’s transparency to allow users to monitor the biology moving through the system, while the flexible Agilus30 photopolymer is said to provide added functionality. With this machine, nine bioprocessing units can be printed in one build, and thanks to 3D printing, BiologIC has been able to invite potential customers to take a look at the device.
“They’re fascinated by it,” Chairman Richard Vellacott told TCT. “We’ve been working with customers since day one and they can see straight into the design, build and tests of these products. We can turn the whole conventional life science instrument development model on its head, rather than waiting five to ten years to get something out to a customer and hope they want it.”
The company says the device could be harnessed in the food, fuel and medical sectors, with the development of therapies, treatments and vaccines for various illnesses a potential application in the latter. BiologIC’s inspiration for the device comes from computing technology; in much the same way mainframe computers have reduced in size to laptops, tablets and smartphones, BiologIC’s vision – a grand one, Vellacott is not afraid to confess – is to create a lab space within a Rubik’s Cube-sized footprint.
“Our ‘lab in a box’ draws inspiration from advanced in 3D printing and the semiconductor [industry’s] long and successful history,” co-founder of BiologIC Nick Rollings commented in a press release. “Importantly, our instrument could be used to create biology by design and on-demand, whether it’s to treat patients on-site or make the latest biofuels. We believe this device will enable the next industrial revolution. But the cost and time implications of creating such a device and bringing it to reality with a working prototype was the stumbling block. Ultimately, 3D printing was the technology capable of overcoming this problem. Indeed, without the J826, we wouldn’t be moving ahead as a company as we wouldn’t have a product.”
As the business does move ahead, the company is targeting a scale up to thousands of bioprocessing units being additively manufactured, they also would like to expand their usage of Stratasys materials to incorporate eight into the design rather than four, and is confident it will be able to tackle various designs within the same platform if required.
Of course, there is some path still to tread in the development of the device, but once the usual regulatory hurdles have been cleared, the hope is medical professionals, for instance, can accelerate the development of their medicines. BiologIC knows there exist laboratory innovations that could lead to potential therapies, treatments and vaccines, and the team only has to flip open their laptops or swipe a finger across their phones right now to be reminded of the urgency.
“There are so many clear and pressing needs for some new solutions, that the life science space can’t wait five or ten years for conventional technologies to develop those solutions,” Vellacott said. “If we can automate all of these [lab] processes, we can free up scientists to do what they do best, which is understand biology, design experiments, get results. We want to deploy these people not in mindless capacities, but in mindful creation.
“If we execute this nicely, hopefully we will make a big difference in the world.”