BioP3 technology could be an alternative to bioprinting organs

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The BioP3 device in use

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When we hear about projects that may someday make it possible to create internal organs on demand, they usually incorporate 3D bioprinting. This typically involves depositing successive layers of cell-seeded material one on top of another, to form the finished organ. While the technology definitely holds a lot of promise, a device known as the BioP3 could give it a run for its money.

The BioP3 is being developed by a team led by Brown University bioengineer Jeffrey Morgan and Dr. Andrew Blakely, a surgery fellow at Rhode Island Hospital and the Warren Alpert Medical School. It's inspired by the fashion in which electronic devices are manufactured, where different components are picked and then carefully put in place to form a whole. The P3 in its name refers to "pick, place and perfuse."

In this case, those components are "microtissues" – microscopic structures composed of living tissue. These are manufactured using a micromolding technique developed by Morgan, in which various types of living cells can be made to self-assemble into predetermined shapes such as spheres, rods or honeycomb slabs.

In the BioP3 prototype, a selection of those microtissues are stored in liquid in a central chamber. A permeable-membrane-tipped nozzle is used to pick them up one at a time, via suction applied by a connected pump.

The operator then moves each one over to a microscope stage-like platform, and precisely puts it in place before releasing it from the nozzle. In this way, they're able to gradually build up larger 3D biological structures, made from stacked microtissues. After what's described as "a short time," the microtissues bond with one another, creating a cohesive single structure.

Honeycomb-shaped microtissues, stacked together using the BioP3

The current version of the BioP3 was made mostly from parts available at Home Depot, for a total of under US$200. Because it's manually operated, it presently takes a fair amount of time to create structures that are still much smaller than functioning organs – for instance, it took Blakely roughly an hour to stack 16 ring-shaped microtissues around a tiny post.

In September, however, the team received a $1.4 million National Science Foundation grant, which will partly go toward automating and thus speeding up the picking-and-placing process. It is hoped that once perfected, the BioP3 could be used to create replacement organs more quickly than is currently possible using 3D bioprinting.

A paper on the research was recently published in the journal Tissue Engineering Part C. The prototype device can be seen in use, in the video below.

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