Tag Archives: bio-ink

A cheaper way to make artificial organs

In the quest to develop artificial organs, the University of British Columbia (UBC) is the not the first research institution that comes to my mind. It seems I may need to reevaluate now that UBC (Okanagan) has announced some work on bio-inks and artificial organs in a Sept. 12, 2017 news  release (also on EurekAlert) by Patty Wellborn,,

A new bio-ink that may support a more efficient and inexpensive fabrication of human tissues and organs has been created by researchers at UBC’s Okanagan campus.

Keekyoung Kim, an assistant professor at UBC Okanagan’s School of Engineering, says this development can accelerate advances in regenerative medicine.

Using techniques like 3D printing, scientists are creating bio-material products that function alongside living cells. These products are made using a number of biomaterials including gelatin methacrylate (GelMA), a hydrogel that can serve as a building block in bio-printing. This type of bio-material—called bio-ink—are made of living cells, but can be printed and molded into specific organ or tissue shapes.

The UBC team analyzed the physical and biological properties of three different GelMA hydrogels—porcine skin, cold-water fish skin and cold-soluble gelatin. They found that hydrogel made from cold-soluble gelatin (gelatin which dissolves without heat) was by far the best performer and a strong candidate for future 3D organ printing.

“A big drawback of conventional hydrogel is its thermal instability. Even small changes in temperature cause significant changes in its viscosity or thickness,” says Kim. “This makes it problematic for many room temperature bio-fabrication systems, which are compatible with only a narrow range of hydrogel viscosities and which must generate products that are as uniform as possible if they are to function properly.”

Kim’s team created two new hydrogels—one from fish skin, and one from cold-soluble gelatin—and compared their properties to those of porcine skin GelMA. Although fish skin GelMA had some benefits, cold-soluble GelMA was the top overall performer. Not only could it form healthy tissue scaffolds, allowing cells to successfully grow and adhere to it, but it was also thermally stable at room temperature.

The UBC team also demonstrated that cold-soluble GelMA produces consistently uniform droplets at temperatures, thus making it an excellent choice for use in 3D bio-printing.

“We hope this new bio-ink will help researchers create improved artificial organs and lead to the development of better drugs, tissue engineering and regenerative therapies,” Kim says. “The next step is to investigate whether or not cold-soluble GelMA-based tissue scaffolds are can be used long-term both in the laboratory and in real-world transplants.”

Three times cheaper than porcine skin gelatin, cold-soluble gelatin is used primarily in culinary applications.

Here’s a link to and a citation for the paper,

Comparative study of gelatin methacrylate hydrogels from different sources for biofabrication applications by Zongjie Wang, Zhenlin Tian, Fredric Menard, and Keekyoung Kim. Biofabrication, Volume 9, Number 4 Special issue on Bioinks https://doi.org/10.1088/1758-5090/aa83cf Published 21 August 2017

© 2017 IOP Publishing Ltd

This paper is behind a paywall.

A new bio-ink, inkjet printers, and printing human cells at Australia’s University of Wollongong

Sometimes I look at my printer and just shake my head at the thought that one day it might produce living cells if the researchers at University of  Wollongong (New South Wales, Australia) have their way. From the Nov. 16, 2012 news item on phys.org,

Researchers have been aware for some time of the potential for using commercially available inkjet printer heads to print living human cells into 3D structures, but design of the actual ink capable of carrying cells through the printer has been a challenge.

The ARC Centre of Excellence for Electromaterials Science at UOW has led a team of scientists including Cameron Ferris, Dr Kerry Gilmore, Dr Stephen Beirne, Dr Donald McCallum, Professor Gordon Wallace and Associate Professor Marc in het Panhuis to develop a new bio-ink that improves the viability of living cells and allows better control of cell positioning through the printing process.

“To date, none of the available inks has been optimised in terms of both printability and cell suspending ability,” according to ACES Associate Researcher Cameron Ferris.

“Our new bio-ink is printable and cell-friendly, preventing cell settling and allowing controlled deposition of cells.”

The Nov. 15, 2012 University of Wollogong news release, which originated the news item, provides some detail about what makes this new bio-ink exciting,

The 2D structures being printed with the bio-ink enables exquisite control over cell distribution and this already presents exciting opportunities to improve drug screening and toxicology testing processes. Building on this, 3D bio-printing, with which patient-specific tissue replacements could be fabricated, is within the grasp of researchers.

The abstract for the researchers’ paper in Biomaterials helped me to build my understanding of this innovation,

Drop-on-demand bioprinting allows the controlled placement of living cells, and will benefit research in the fields of tissue engineering, drug screening and toxicology. We show that a bio-ink based on a novel microgel suspension in a surfactant-containing tissue culture medium can be used to reproducibly print several different cell types, from two different commercially available drop-on-demand printing systems, over long printing periods. The bio-ink maintains a stable cell suspension, preventing the settling and aggregation of cells that usually impedes cell printing, whilst meeting the stringent fluid property requirements needed to enable printing even from many-nozzle commercial inkjet print heads. This innovation in printing technology may pave the way for the biofabrication of multi-cellular structures and functional tissue.

You can access the paper (free access) but you must be registered (it’s free) with RSC (Royal Society of Chemistry) Publishing. Here’s a link and the citation,

Bio-ink for on-demand printing of living cells

Cameron J. Ferris ,  Kerry J. Gilmore ,  Stephen Beirne ,  Donald McCallum ,  Gordon G. Wallace and Marc in het Panhuis

Biomater. Sci., 2013, Advance Article

DOI: 10.1039/C2BM00114D
Received 09 Aug 2012, Accepted 11 Oct 2012
First published on the web 05 Nov 2012

Even more helpful than the abstract and assuming you’re not ready to read the paper is Jennifer Newton’s Nov. 7, 2012 article for the RSC’s Chemistry World,

‘The first bio-inks used in drop-on-demand cell printing were simple salt solutions,’ says Marc in het Panhuis, who was part of the research team at the University of Wollongong. ‘The cells in these inks settled and aggregated quickly, which impeded printing. Cell viability can also be compromised if the salt concentration is too high.’

Other bio-inks include low viscosity biopolymer solutions, which are known to slow cell settling. The team’s bio-ink consists of a biopolymer – gellan gum – and two surfactants in a standard tissue culture medium. The surfactants – Novec FC4430 and Poloxamer 188 – reduce surface tension, allowing optimal inkjet printing, and protect the cells from fluid-mechanical damage.

The cells do not settle and aggregate because the biopolymer creates a structured network of micro-gel particles that keep the cells suspended in the gel. However, the bio-ink remains printable as the network is not rigid and is easily broken down during printing. ‘Our bio-ink allowed us to print multiple cell types over long printing periods without changing print heads or replenishing ink solutions,’ says in het Panhuis.

There are more details in Newton’s article and the image that accompanies it is quite striking.