3D Bioprinting: As field heats up, challenging, and rewarding, growth ahead

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3D bioprinting is fast becoming one of the most rapidly-growing areas of tissue engineering: the influx of new research, funds, patents and companies operating in the field is contributing to it becoming a multi-billion dollar business.

While bioprinted organs are still not a reality, big steps towards making such pipe-dreams become clinical therapies are being made: an overview of the field was given in a recent opinion article published in Trends in Biotechnology by Dr. Ibrahim Ozbolat at the University of Iowa, which highlights the state of the art of the field and issues with the scale-up of functional tissue and organ constructs for transplantation.

The most commonly used bioprinting techniques include laser, inkjet or extrusion/deposition bioprinting. Out of these, inkjet-based bioprinting is the most common. While proof-of-concept studies have demonstrated simple biological systems successfully in multiple applications, the organs that have been produced from these endeavors are small and relatively simple. More complex architectures and fully vascularized systems are yet to be produced.

A recent market analysis was made by Washington, DC-basedFinnegan IP law firm on the main players in the field in terms of awarded patents for 3D bioprinting-related work. The breakdown is shown in the table below.

 

3D Bioprinting Patent Assignees June 2016
Organovo 66
Koninklijke Philips 33
Wake Forest University 40
Hewlett-Packard Company 29
The University Of Texas System 22
Medprin Regenerative Medical Technologies Co Ltd 14
Corning Incorporated 17

 

These numbers are growing rapidly every year, as are the companies entering this field.

Where next? There is no doubt that increased funding will keep trickling into the 3D bioprinting field, particularly as more compelling technologies are emerging demonstating increasingly more complex, functionalized constructs.

In order to remain competitive, the field will have to field the same challenges that the stem cell therapy field has encountered on its road to maturity: to demonstrate fully implantable, 3D bioprinted organs, multiple contributing factors will have to fall in place on the road to market, from manufacturing through to logistics. The complexity, particularly in the case of organs such as the kidney, liver or heart – all of which require critical vascularization to maintain cell function – will be greater than anything encountered before, but the potential rewards that much more compelling.

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