Undergrads Aim to Lower Bio Printing Costs

A 3D printer extruder developed by two undergrads could lower the cost of printing cellular media.

bio printing, undergrad, research, cell, sugar, tissue, organ, 3d printingAt the University of Alabama-Huntsville two undergrads have joined forces in an effort to advance the burgeoning science of bio printing, helping to develop a clever new extruder.

Named the Carbohydrate Anhydrous Rapid Manufacturing Aluminum Extruder (CarmAl), the new print head was inspired by machines that are used to manufacture specialty candies. Built by sophomore Tanner Carden, in collaboration with fellow student Devon Bane, the CarmAl extruder employs a software controlled solenoid valve to regulate the release of nitrogen used to extrude the machine’s material – sugar. Once the CarmAl has its media moving, the sugar substrate moves through a heated modular tip which gives users better control over the sugar’s viscosity and print accuracy.

According to Carden, “We’re using the sugar molecules in a form of reverse 3-D printing. In this process, we first make the structures we want and then we embed them into a cellular matrix. After cells held in suspension in an agarose solution are grown around the vascular structure, a solvent can be used to wash the sugar away.”

In development for two years, the CarmAl project was awarded a $9,800 Charger Innovation Fund grant to further Carden & Bane’s research. With that money the two researchers will develop proprietary software to control their extruder and begin to grow cells around the structures the CarmAl produces.

In the coming months Carden has plans to travel to Wake Forest University’s Institute for Regenerative Medicine to learn more about the state of bio printing. While there he hopes to gather the info needed to develop a more advanced version of the CarmAl, lending his machine the ability to print vascular structures in a more natural, flowing method rather than the grid-like method he currently employs.

Although his journey with bio printing is just beginning, Carden already has visions of a future made brighter by the tech. “In five or 10 or maybe 20 years, it will become affordable to actually print a liver or a heart,” he says. “At some point you get to the use of stem cells, and personalized medicine becomes very affordable.”

Image Courtesy of University of Alabama Huntsville