Armed with Science Saturday: Top Tech – Printing Cells

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BIO09TechnologyCell and Biofactor Printable Biopapers

AgencyNaval Research Laboratory

The Naval Research Laboratory (NRL) has developed thin polymer/hydrogel scaffold sheets, or ‘biopapers’, which act as substrates for cell and biofactor printing.  Whoa.  Now this is a cool use of new printing technology.  Biotechnology continues to push forward as we seek stronger and more viable solutions to some of humanity’s challenging problems.  Like cellular regeneration, for example.  Tissue, anyone?

What is it?

Basically, this is a form of substrate biological paper that can be printed in sheets.  The patented NRL technique uses these biopapers as mechanically stable sheets to be used in a cell printing apparatus.  Now, you might be asking yourself, “Why anyone would need living paper?”

Good question.  You certainly wouldn’t use it to write grocery lists on, I’ll tell you that.

What does that mean?

Actually, it’s used to assist in the creation and growth of cells.  Think about that.  Especially from a medical perspective.  If tv shows have taught me anything it’s that you can never have too much in the way of biological resources.  As a matter of fact, it seems like there’s often not enough to go around.  The goal is to facilitate tissue and organ printing from the ground up by creating prevascularized constructs, layer-by-layer.

Imagine the possibilities.

What does it do?

These biodegradable cell papers can be used in a number of ways.  After printing, they can be cultured to achieve the desired level of cell differentiation (e.g., vasculature formation) and/or tissue formation.  Each polymer sheet can be addressed with different growth factors and then loaded into a cell printer for patterned cell seeding.  They can be custom made-to-order, if you will.

They are strong enough that they can then be physically stacked into three dimensional structures.  By printing multiple cell types in a defined pattern on each sheet, culturing, and then stacking the sheets, there are multiple added benefits.  These biopapers can be used to enable heterogeneous tissue structures to be created in 3D, including structures needed for prevascularization of tissue constructs.

In less technical terms…

Like cardboard production, different layers serve different purposes.  When they’re all combined they make a viable product.  Similarly, different layers of biopaper can be layered and used together to help build various types of tissues which grow with the patient as they heal.  They can also be used for unique, high resolution in vitro 3D cell culture models.

But don’t just take *my* word for it…

Dr. Bradley Ringeisen is the head of the Bioenergy & Biofabrication Section at the U.S. Naval Research Laboratory (NRL).  In this video he discusses his recently published paper,PLGA/hydrogel biopapers as a stackable substrate for printing HUVEC networks via BioLP™, by explaining what that means, and why it’s so cool:

Did you see that?!  That whole process was faster than my home printer can squeeze out a 4X6 picture!

How can this help?

The big winner here is regenerative medicine.  Being able to essentially print off sheets of biological material that can help patients who are in need of things – like a skin graft, for example – is a huge benefit.  Being able to grow organs?  Well that kind of explains itself in the way of benefits.

These biopapers can also be used for in-vitro model tissues for drug testing, bioreactors, and biomolecular production.  They also have applications in preformed cell culture substrates for biological research.  This includes 3D conformal cell printing (e.g. NRL’s patented BioLPTM, inkjet, laser-induced forward transfer), and the like.  Research helps to make things like this possible, and to create even greater ideas in the future.

My take?

This is the start of something beautiful.  Biopapers that can be printed as they are needed can help people who are in serious need of some cellular regeneration.  This is the kind of innovation that could possibly lead to printing off whole organs someday.  Think of the benefits of knowing that you could use your own cells to grow new tissue, rather than scraping for what’s already available.

These biopapers are fascinating for several reasons.  One, they’re biodegradable, so you know, eco-friendly.  Two, they possess tunable pore size, elasticity, degradation and mechanical properties.  Basically, they can be used for soft and hard tissues.  So they’re versatile.  Three, their micro-alignment can be used for high resolution inter-layer registration of printed structures.  Four, the biopapers provide scaffolding for low volume print applications, so they’re not high-impact.

This technology is good for research and application alike, because it provides something that the biology community could always use more of: resource.  Being able to print off biopapers which could lead to the reconstruction and regeneration of large things like limbs has immeasurable benefits to the human race.

These printable biopapers are incredible, and it’s only the beginning.

Want to learn more?  Click here for more information on this technology!

Are you interested more federal inventions? The Naval Research Laboratory has a broad portfolio of technologies that are available for commercialization. Visit their official website to learn more!


Jessica L. Tozer is a blogger for DoDLive and Armed With Science.  She is an Army veteran and an avid science fiction fan, both of which contribute to her enthusiasm for technology in the military.

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