The medical AM segment is multifaceted, consisting of 3D printed medical devices, anatomical models, prosthetics and more. Within the industry, bioprinting has carved out a prominent position, gaining interest across the board for its huge potentials in drug development and screening, therapeutic treatments and regenerative medicine, to name but a few. While much of the excitement surrounding bioprinting is focused on the future—what it could do—we want to look at what is happening now in the field that is exciting.
As part of our Medical AM Focus, we asked bioprinting leaders from across the sector what they consider to be the most exciting application for their bioprinting technologies today. In this segment, we hear from Canadian bioprinting company Aspect Biosystems.
Based in Vancouver, Aspect Biosystems is a biotech company that specializes in the microfluidic 3D bioprinting of human tissues. The company has brought to market a sophisticated bioprinting system—the RX1 Bioprinter—which is today used by researchers all over the globe for medical applications, including neural and cardiac research. The company also conducts its own research in-house, developing tissue therapeutics for orthopedic and metabolic disorders.
According to Aspect Biosystems, one of the most exciting regenerative medicine applications it is currently exploring is the bioprinting of pancreatic tissue, which could help in the treatment of diabetes patients.
“The moonshot for the bioprinting industry is to create whole replacement organs,” the company tells us. “While this is a great goal, it is still a long way off. At Aspect, we are focused on restoration of function versus replication of entire organ structure. Many diseases and disorders are a result of missing or lost function, in which case patients don’t necessarily need a whole new organ—they need an implantable tissue that replaces the lost function of the damaged organ.
“This is particularly true of people living with type 1 diabetes. A patient with type 1 diabetes has a pancreas that does not perform its intended functions of secreting insulin and regulating blood sugar levels. Therefore, we are not aiming to create a replacement pancreas, but rather an implantable tissue therapeutic that would restore the the intended functions of the organ.”
“Microfluidic-based 3D bioprinting enables the creation of well-defined microstructures, thus allowing us to print a tissue structure with specific features such as immune-protection, vascularization, or production of hormones like insulin,” says Aspect Biosystems. “In the case of pancreatic tissue, microfluidics gives us the ability to print a multi-layered structure with a core of insulin-producing pancreatic islet cells (stem cell-derived beta-like cells) surrounded by an immuno-protective layer.
“Our goal is to use these bioprinted encapsulated pancreatic beta cells as the foundation for developing an implantable 3D tissue therapeutic. Adding an outer layer that immune cells can’t penetrate, but that allows diffusion of insulin, would ensure the success of the implanted tissue therapeutic as a long-term treatment for patients with type 1 diabetes without the need for immunosuppressant therapy.”
As Aspect Biosystems moves forward in its bioprinting R&D, it is supported by a recent investment of $20 million, led by VC firm Radical Ventures. This injection of capital will help the company to accelerate its bioprinting work—both for the pancreatic tissue development and beyond.