With 3D printing set to revolutionise research, IBEC researchers have been exploring the possibilities of using the new technology to already improve their processes and methods.
IBEC recently became home to the first 3D bioprinter in Catalonia, which promises to open up exciting new avenues in tissue and organ regeneration. First, though, in a collaboration with the UPF, the CINVESTAV-Monterrey in Mexico, and the University of Washington, the Barcelona-based scientists developed a new way of producing microfluidic devices – systems in which low volumes of fluids are processed.
These are crucial tools in many areas of biomedical research, such as DNA analysis, lab-on-a-chip technology, and as a system that allows cell biologists to control the complete cellular environment.
Published in Lab on a Chip, the work describes a major improvement in the way microfluidics systems can be produced. To date, the majority have been moulded in poly(dimethylsiloxane), or PDMS, by a method called soft lithography. Although PDMS offers the requisite properties for microfluidics systems – it’s biocompatible, elastomeric, transparent, gas-permeable, inexpensive, and copyright-free – the technique is nonetheless slow and difficult.
Using a different kind of resin, poly(ethylene glycol) diacrylate, or PEG-DA, and a method of 3D printing known as stereolithography, the researchers were able to construct a 3D-printed device that is highly transparent – as microfluidics systems need excellent visibility – on which cells can be cultured for several days.
“With this new biocompatible resin and 3D printing process, we avoid the drawbacks of PDMS devices, which as well as being tedious to make, were prone to assembly failures and difficult to disseminate to research and clinical settings,” explains IBEC’s director Josep Samitier, whose PhD student, Luis G. Rigat, did a research internship at the University of Washington to learn from researchers already working with 3D printing and bring his new knowledge back to IBEC. “By using stereolithography, which is automated, assembly-free, cheaper and faster, we also improved the fabrication procedure, which used to be limited to simple, layered designs. Now we can make far more complex 3D structures.” The new process can also be applied in other areas, such as in the production of non-microfluidic biomedical devices.
As well as already beginning to transform the way researchers work by offering improved methods such as this one, 3D printers – and specifically 3D bioprinters, like the new one at IBEC – offer a fast, high-throughput way to produce constructs such as scaffolds or implants with cell function and viability preserved, so they represent a huge advance towards being able to produce human-scale tissues with structural integrity.
Source article: Arturo Urrios, Cesar Parra-Cabrera, Nirveek Bhattacharjee, Alan M Gonzalez-Suarez, Luis Guillermo Rigat Brugarolas, Umashree Nallapati, Josep Samitier, Cole DeForest, Francesc Posas, Jose L Garcia-Cordero and Albert Folch (2016). 3D-Printing of Transparent Bio-Microfluidic Devices in PEG-DA. Lab Chip, 16, 2287-2294