The syringe-based bioprinter can be incorporated into almost any standard 3D printer for a fraction of the cost

By Warren Miller,
contributing writer

3D bioprinters are revolutionizing the life sciences, but
their prohibitive cost and complexity make them difficult for many people to
gain access to. Researchers at Carnegie Mellon University have developed a possible solution for
researchers on a tight budget — an open-sourced, syringe-based
bioprinter that can be incorporated into almost any standard 3D printer for a
fraction of the cost.

In a paper on the Large Volume Extender (LVE)
published in HardwareX
, the Carnegie Mellon team provided detailed
instructions on how to install the mechanism and print bio-materials with it. The
LVE employs a 60 mL syringe as an ink reservoir and can print fluids with a
nozzle diameter as small as 100μm. By making their design freely available to
all, the researchers hope to make it easier for others to research and
experiment with printing 3D biomaterials.

“Essentially, we’ve developed a bioprinter that you can
build for under $500, that I would argue is at least on par with many that cost
far more money,” said Adam Feinberg, co-author of the paper and material
science and engineering and biomedical engineering associate professor at CMU. “Most
3-D bioprinters start between $10K and $20K. This is significantly cheaper, and
we provide very detailed instructional videos,” he said. “It’s really about
democratizing technology and trying to get it into more people’s hands.” 


The syringe-based bioprinter can be incorporated into almost
any standard 3D printer for a fraction of the cost. 
Image source:

Until now, quality 3D bioprinting had only been done on a
small scale. When working with smaller amounts of material, researchers could
produce models with high levels of resolution. As the volume increased,
however, the models lost quality and consistency. The LVE can produce models as
large as the human heart without sacrificing detail or resolution.

The printer can be used with a variety of bio-materials, but
complex cells that require a significant amount of connectivity — like
the muscles and nerves around a human heart — are not yet on the list. It
might not take very long however for printers to be able to connect these types
of cells together, or eve n to actually create simple muscles and nerves. Once
that is possible, just imagine the types of things that could emerge from a 3D
printer. Perhaps small micromechanical devices combined with biological cells,
muscles and nerve tissue will be the way miniature robots will be created.

Of course, the most complex connectivity at the cell level
is found in the brain. It would probably take many more innovations to be able
to 3D print even part of a brain, but I’m sure somewhere in the world there are
teams of scientists thinking about it.

Getting back to reality, the open sourcing aspect of this
new design shouldn’t be overlooked. Making this kind of technology available to
the world could be a titanic step forward for biomedical research. “We
envision this as being the first of many technologies that we push into the
open source environment to drive the field forward,” said Feinberg.
“It’s something we really believe in.”