Taking a cue from an ancient Chinese woodblock printing technique, researchers have developed a cheaper, more productive bioprinting method.
In a paper recently published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, Lidong Qin and his group at the Houston Methodist Research Institute outlined their method for printing live cells onto any surface in virtually any imaginable shape.
While a number of bioprinting methods are currently in development, Qin’s group saw a need for improvement in the quality of current bioprints. “We feel the current technologies are inadequate," Qin said. "Inkjet-based cell printing leaves many of the cells damaged or dead. We wanted to see if we could invent a tool that helps researchers obtain arrays of cells that are alive and still have full activity."
Called Block-Cell-Printing (BloC-Printing), the new technique uses a silicon mold to press cells on a surface. To guide the cells into their appropriate place a series of columns and channels feed living cells throughout the mold. Once adhered to a surface and injected with biological media, the BloC-Printing technique can stamp living cellular prints in as little as a half an hour – similar to the way a woodblock print creates an image.
"Cell printing is used in so many different ways now -- for drug development and in studies of tissue regeneration, cell function, and cell-cell communication," Qin said. "Such things can only be done when cells are alive and active. A survival rate of 50 to 80 percent is typical as cells exit the inkjet nozzles. By comparison, we are seeing close to 100 percent of cells in BloC-Printing survive the printing process."
Beyond its ability to produce quick, reliable and live prints, the BloC method is extremely inexpensive. After a mold is created researchers only require a syringe, cellular media and petri dish to create their prints. In comparison to other bioprinting systems Qin’s technique yields a print for about $1, a far cry from the 10-100’s of thousands of dollars required for other machines.
While Qin’s research is promising for the development of tissues that can advance the medical field’s understanding of brain activity and cancer growth, I also wonder if it could be used to create more substantial tissues, such as for organ printing?
Regardless of it end use, the diversity of techniques developed for bioprinting can only mean good things for this rapidly growing field.
Image Courtesy of Houston Methodist Research Institute