Bioprinting has gained a great deal of traction in recent years. Read on to see what these 10 incredible 3D bioprinters are capable of!
It’s understandable to think of 3D bioprinting as a futuristic technology associated with science fiction. However, there are several biotechnology companies around the globe today that already produce commercial 3D bioprinters. Furthermore, new bioengineering technologies are emerging at a rapid rate.
According to Frederico D. Pereira, from the Laboratory of Biotechnological Research in Moscow, a 3D bioprinter is “an automated device for robotic additive biofabrication of 3D functional tissue and organs based on digital models.”
In other words, in order to be considered a bioprinter, a machine must be automated and be able to produce 3D structures of tissue and organs. Also, it has to strictly adhere to using living cells or tissues as build material. Last but not least, the fabrication must be based on digital models.
In this article, we’ll keep the focus on 3D bioprinters that both fit the definition above and which can be used in some commercial way. With that said, the following sections will discuss not only the hardware, but also the journey of the developers behind them.
The first item on our list is the very first commercially-available 3D bioprinter. Developed by Professor Ralf Mulhapt’s group at the University of Freiburg, Germany, it was one of only a few academic projects that have been successful going to market.
The bioprinter was commercialized by EnvisionTec, who named it the 3D-Bioplotter. The German company launched it in 2000, making the Bioplotter one of the most seasoned bioprinters of its kind. At the time of writing, over 350 scientific papers have been written with the aid of these printers.
The 3D-Bioplotter is available in three different versions, based on the type of application. While the Starter Series might be suitable (and cheaper) for new research groups, the Developer and Manufacturer Series are more complex systems suitable for commercial research or engineering.
The Bioplotter is an extrusion-based bioprinter, capable of holding up to five print heads and a maximum axis resolution of an astonishing 0.001 mm. This bioprinter is also capable of making scaffold structures from a wide range of materials, from thermoplastics to even medical-grade silicone.
All 3D-Bioplotter versions are available for purchase. Costs vary depending on the model and the optional features, with some setups costing well over $200,000.
The 3DDiscovery Evolution can be considered the co-author of over 200 scientific publications worldwide. This 3D bioprinter was developed by the Swiss company RegenHu, which specializes in designing and developing bioprinting solutions.
RegenHu, which stands for “Regeneration Human”, was founded in 2007. Since its beginning, it has gone for a unique strategy: investing in worldwide collaborations and partnerships. The company now holds several exclusive patents in biofabrication, which have been developed over many years through academic and international partners.
The company currently has two different models of bioprinters: the 3DDiscovery Evolution and the BioFactory. The 3DDiscovery might be seen as an entry-level machine for its cost-effectiveness, but in reality, it’s a very resourceful and complex system.
Both the 3DDiscovery and the BioFactory are capable of handling multiple materials in their print heads, being suitable for either soft or hard tissue engineering and even drug development. The 3DDiscovery can have up to 6 print heads and has upgradable accessories, such as individual temperature control systems and even internal cameras for process monitoring.
All of RegenHu’s 3D bioprinter models are available for purchase.
NGB stands for “Next-Generation Bioprinting”, and it’s an accurate name. The NGB-R and NGB-C 3D bioprinters developed by Poietis use relatively new technology for printing. Specifically, it’s a laser-based technique, capable of outputting an extremely high-resolution and control.
Rather than having an extruding print head, these machines make use of tiny laser pulses shot every nanosecond to deposit microscopic droplets of bio-ink on the build table. See how they work in the video below. This technique was conceptualized in 2006, eight years before the French start-up Poietis was founded.
Poietis specializes in developing and manufacturing in vitro human tissues, and their 3D bioprinting has been extremely successful in recent years. In 2015, the company partnered with the global chemical giant BASF for the development of 3D printed skin for cosmetic testing purposes. Today, it’s responsible for the first commercial bioprinted human tissue, the Poieskin.
The NGB-R model is designed specifically for research applications while the NGB-C is a clinical-grade, GMP-compliant bioprinter more focused on clinical and manufacturing applications. Both systems are available for purchase.
The Bio X6 is the most advanced machine from one of the largest manufacturers of bioprinters. Cellink is a Boston-based company established in 2016. Since then, it’s been designing and developing bioprinting technologies for the most diverse applications.
The company has a large portfolio in biofabrication hardware: five machines, in total. Cellink has also ventured into biomaterials, having developed the first universal bioink. Currently, they offer more than 50 ready-to-use bioinks.
Most of the company’s 3D bioprinters are extrusion-based, and they’re said to be used by more than 700 laboratories worldwide. The Bio X6 has six print heads featuring the so-called “Clean Chamber Technology” – a high-powered air pressure system that drives the extrusion through the syringes.
The Bio X6 comes with various innovative features, like an HD camera for process control, a pneumatic print head for high viscosity materials, and even an incredible electromagnetic droplet print head, which allows for a fast drop-on-demand build, similar to ink-jet techniques.
All of Cellink’s bioprinters and bioinks are for sale.
Allevi, formerly the start-up BioBots, is an American company established in 2014. At first, their main goal was to make biofabrication easier, since at that time, all 3D bioprinters were either very expensive, difficult to use, or both.
In just one year, the company went on to develop the BioBots 1, a low-cost desktop 3D bioprinter. With this machine, Allevi was named “Most Innovative Company” by SXSW in 2015. Fortune magazine even called them the “Makerbot of biology“.
The company now has three 3D bioprinter models: Allevi 1, Allevi 2, and Allevi 3. Although not very creative, their names indicate the number of extruders on each machine. But the differences between these models go further than print heads, with the Allevi 3 being much more precise (1 μm) than its siblings (7.5 μm for Allevi 1 and 5 μm for the Allevi 2).
These bioprinters use LED photocuring with multiple lightwaves to solidify the material without harming the living cells. This allows the Allevis to work with different biomaterials, such as collagen, alginate, methacrylate, polyethylene glycol, and of course, various hydrogels. All Allevis are commercially available.
In 2015, Korean 3D printer manufacturer Rokit announced that it would start working on in-situ bioprinting for skin regeneration. To help them in this, the Korean government provided $3 million in funding.
In just one year, the company released its first bioprinter: the Invivo, designed specifically for tissue engineering research. In 2019, Rokit demonstrated a new bioprinting method to treat scarred lesions. The Invivo was able to print the patient’s own cells and tissues into a dermal patch graft, which would be placed over lesions and allow the natural regeneration of the skin.
Rokit went on to become “Rokit Healthcare“, and it’s no longer focused only on tissue engineering but completely in regenerative medicine. The Invivo was upgraded to the Dr. Ivivo 4D, a new system with a closed and sterile chamber thanks to medical-grade air filters and a UV sterilization system.
The Invivo 4D has dual extrusion capabilities – a syringe for bio-inks and hydrogels – and a filament extruder designed to work with high-performance materials. With nozzle temperatures ranging from below zero up to 350 ℃.
With its distinctive color, the Rastrum 3D bioprinter truly draws attention to itself. The machine was developed by Inventia Life Science Operations, an Australian company founded in 2013 for developing and manufacturing biofabrication equipment. The company focuses on advanced medical research, specifically in cancer treatment.
The Rastrum is an ink-jet bioprinter, capable of producing 3D cell models at very high speed. The high throughput of the machine allows for hundreds of experiments to be done in one day.
This bioprinter is sleek and compact, making it ideal for desktop use in laboratories. In fact, the Rastrum won the Australian “Good Design Award of the Year” in 2019.
Inventia claims the Rastrum can print up to 10 different cells and matrix components simultaneously, and that it can be applied to organ and tissue engineering. This 3D bioprinter is not exactly for sale, as research groups and companies work based on a partnership with Inventia.
Organovo‘s 3D bioprinter is likely one of the most well-known biofabrication companies in the world. The NovoGen MMX was announced by the American company back in 2009, and it was developed in collaboration with Invetech. It’s an extrusion-based printer, which includes two print heads for the simultaneous building of live cells and support structures.
Organovo went public in 2012, and it’s still one of the few companies to do so. They’re focused on producing lab-grown tissues for accelerating pre-clinical drug testing and medical research.
The 3D bioprinter was recognized as one of the “Best Inventions of 2010” by Time Magazine. Organovo doesn’t market the NovoGen. Instead, it sells only to large drug manufacturers or produces tissues specifically for them.
Canadian Aspect Biosystems is a medical research company that came up with a unique platform for 3D bioprinting, called “Lab-on-a-Printer”. This technology was patented and can be described as a mix between microfluidics and 3D printing.
Rather than a regular syringe with bioink, this method uses microfluidic chips that allow the mixture of materials on-the-fly during printing. This not only streamlines the entire process by avoiding the time-consuming material change, but also favors the chemical cross-linking of the mixed materials.
The RX1 bioprinter makes use of this technology, as it was designed to be compatible with a wide range of biomaterials. The microfluidics allows unprecedented flexibility for seamless biomaterial patterning and, in turn, the fabrication of very physiologically complex tissues.
Aspect Biosystems works based on partnership programs and does not sell its bioprinter.
3D Bioprinting Solutions is a research laboratory founded in 2013 by a private medical company in Russia. The laboratory produces equipment and materials for biofabrication. Within a year of its creation, the company unveiled the first Russian 3D bioprinter: the Fabion.
The company has always made it clear that its main goal is to fabricate functional organs. As a matter of fact, Bioprinting Solutions was successful in printing a mouse thyroid gland in 2015. Not satisfied with that, in 2018, the company went on to print the same organ, but at the International Space Station. Yes, bioprinting in space.
Released in 2016, the Fabion 2 is the second generation of the Russian bioprinter. It brings new functionality, printing complex structures using single tissue spheroids. It can also handle a wide range of biomaterials and uses different types of polymerization.
Bioprinting Solutions doesn’t market its products, but it’s open for collaborations in biofabrication research.
(Lead image source: TechRepublic)
License: The text of "10 Commercial 3D Bioprinters Available in 2020" by All3DP is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License.
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