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Advancing 3D Bioprinting Applications and Materials in the Catalonia Region

For over a decade, the Institute for Bioengineering of Catalonia (IBEC) has been at the forefront of research in the fields of biotechnology, nanomedicine, biophysics, tissue engineering, and more. Looking to achieve breakthroughs in engineering and life sciences, it is no wonder that IBEC’s research has taken a turn towards additive manufacturing in recent years.

In recent months, IBEC has become a partner in a Catalonia-based, multi-million euro 3D printing hub called the Global 3D Printing Hub; it has joined forces with Barcelona’s Hospital Clinic to conduct 3D bioprinting research for cancer treatments; and has made advances in the field of 3D printable biocompatible hydrogels.

We recently caught up with Professor Josep Samitier Martí. Group Leader Nanobioengineering and Director at IBEC, the Institute for Bioengineering of Catalonia, to learn about the different areas in which it is exploring additive manufacturing and specifically bioprinting technologies.

According to Prof. Samitier, IBEC’s main area of focus within the bioprinting field is the development of bio-inks, otherwise known as biocompatible materials that are suitable for additive manufacturing. Currently, IBEC is working to develop bio-inks for a number of applications, including for cartilage and tendon implantation, as well as for treating specific organs. The latter area consists of developing such things as cardiovascular patches or even a kidney patch.

We are working out the development of both a cardio-vascular patch and kidney, tissue mainly for screening purposes of different types of nephron disease, that is the basic structural and functional unit of the kidney. In the future, probably before the end of this year, we are also working on developing a new 3D printing system,” Prof. Samitier  explained.

Founded in 2005, IBEC develops 3D bioprinters for research. The institute  is now working closely with clinicians in the Catalonia region for its bioprinting research, as it hopes to achieve breakthroughs in the field and eventually have them applied in the medical sector. “Our work at this moment consists of signing different agreements with clinicians located mainly in Barcelona,” said Prof. Samitier.

IBEC’s research is centered on three main areas. The first, as Samitier explains it, has to do with regeneration and consists of developing biomaterials and printing technologies that would enable it. The second area is investigating diseases whose affects are increased by the aging process. This research also explores regeneration, as well as the loss of ability to naturally regenerate cells. The third focus area has to do with the bio gene for the future of medicine.

This focuses more on the development of new technologies and new approaches for the future of diagnostic processes and therapies for specialized medicine. In this case, we will focus more on diagnostic systems and the use of micro devices and organ-on-a-chip technologies for drug screening,” explains Prof. Samitier.

3D bioprinting is reportedly enabling IBEC researchers to make advances in certain areas where they were previously facing hurdles. For instance, in the development of 3D tissue constructs, one of the main challenges has been vascularization: the process of forming blood vessels which is crucial to a tissue’s survival. 3D printing has opened up the possibilities for creating porous structures that promote and facilitate the vascularization of the bioprinted tissue.

IBEC will be participating in Barcelona Industry Week and the IN(3D)USTRY congress this autumn, where it will not only be showcasing its research and developments in the bioprinting field but will also be seeking to make industry connections and to work cooperatively to solve problems in the biomedical field through technological advances.

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