BioPrinting – Part II of A Brave New Health Care
This is a mini-series about technologies that are radically changing healthcare. In each part I preview how a technology came about, how it is being used and how it will evolve, illustrated by my conversations with some of the health care entrepreneurs bringing this technology to life.
Part II – BioPrinting
Guest: Danny Cabrera – CEO OF Biobots www.biobots.io
The Greek Titan, Prometheus, was known to have ruled ancient Greece along with Zeus. Until one day, the two Gods came at fateful odds and Zeus decided to torture his once partner, by tying him up on a cliff for vultures to feed on his fleshy liver.
As Greek myth has it, Prometheus had the extraordinary ability of regeneration, and everyday he would re-grow a new liver, fresh for the vultures to prey on until Hercules would eventually save him. This ancient myth has baffled stem cell scientists and proponents of regenerative medicine for ages.
Could the Greeks have foreseen our future ability to harness the body’s regenerative capacities? This article is about the company that is on a mission to bring the Prometheus myth to a reality, on every scientist’s desktop!
Danny Cabrera, is the CEO of Biobots, a Philadelphia startup that creates high resolution desktop 3D BioPrinters that build functional three dimensional living tissue.
The Road to Prometheus
“I think it is important not to overhype the current state of the technology” Danny told me as he explained that there is still much research to be done before the industry starts printing large organs such as livers and kidneys.
“Skin, cartilage and bone are closer on the horizon, we’ve already allocated simple tissues but it’s harder with vascular organs.”
Many strides have been made such as Dr. Anthony Atala’s famous printing of a urinary bladder, and companies like Organovo that are already printing functional liver tissue.
Despite that, we need to expand our research capabilities, and Biobots is on a mission to enable scientists to do just that.
The Democratization of BioPrinting
“It is important for companies like us to make the technology easy to use and accelerate the rate of progress in the field.” Danny stressed “We are building tools to make the technology much more accessible to researchers and eventually doctors.”
“We’re excited about early adoption and it’s a testament that the field is growing, we’re fundamentally a tech company and not an R&D shop.”
Biobots are essentially democratizing BioPrinters, which used to be available only at universities and large research centers. They are doing that by cutting the cost of the technology ten-fold from $250k to only $25k!
Now researchers can acquire the technology and experiment with no material science expertise or large amounts of funding required.
A safe and universal type of 3D printing
The accuracy of 3D printing in creating a scaffold, has trumped other technologies used in regenerative medicine such as decellularization or electrospinning. Biobots have taken biological 3D printing itself a step further by fixing its shortcomings.
“Our technology is printing that is modular across different tissues, and instead of using UV radiation we use visible light to catalyze the reactions.” Danny explained “It is a biologically viable process, which doesn’t harm the double strands of the DNA, so we believe it’ll enable the next generation of bio printing.”
The bottleneck: Finding Stem Cell materials
Alongside the cost of printers, other companies are creating similar economies of scale for stem cell materials required for BioFabrication.
“Materials are a great concern and companies like Roosterbio are providing the industry with progressively cheaper cells” Danny was excited to announce that 50M cells are now available for $6000.
According to Robert Carlson’s book “Biology for Technology” the cost of biosynthesis is going down faster than the cost of microchips and Moore’s Law.
“The next revolution is going to be based on biology, we really believe that in Biobots and we’re excited to be a part of it.” The young entrepreneur exclaimed. “It’s not like sequencing, biosynthesis and computing are happening in isolation, but these technologies are driving each other’s costs down. Were developing more complex tools and the cost isn’t growing as much as our capabilities.”
The Impact: From Transplants to the Singularity
During my time as a transplant surgery intern at TUFTS, my patient list was full of people who have been waiting for months or years to find an organ donor.
According to the HHS, a person is added to the US waiting list every 10 minutes! Similar demand exists all around the world, creating a large global black market for organs.
For those who are lucky enough to get a transplant, there is a clinical struggle to maintain a delicate balance between preventing organ rejection by immunotherapy, and protecting them against infections due to lowered immunity. Rejections still claim a large number of lives and millions of healthcare dollars.
Biobots are enabling a new wave of technologies that will allow us to one day print our organs using our own stem cells, without waiting for a donor and eliminating the vicious cycle of rejection and infection.
This follows suite with many rapidly progressing technologies that are empowering the patient to be liberated from the paternalistic medical industry. I believe that freedom from the waiting list is a colossal step for humanity, and marks a step forward in our evolution and longevity.
As the Greeks put it centuries ago, regeneration is a trait of the Gods. Unlocking this potential will surely be a watershed moment in medical and human history.
Other articles in series:
Omar Shaker completed medical school in Egypt, followed by internships in the US. He soon left primary care for the world of digital health, moving to San Francisco to work on his own projects. These posts represent his reflections on a series of interviews he conducted with some of the more exciting entrepreneurs working in digital health today. Omar can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.