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Bioprinter for Cancer Drug Research Fits in a Carry On

The compact BioArm has the potential to screen a range of tumor therapies and could play a crucial role in the future development of cancer drug testing approaches.

Clare Scott

April 12, 2023

3D bioprinting is frequently talked about for its potential to create replacement organs in the future, and while that is still a goal for many in the bioprinting space, current applications of the technology could also save lives. The ability to 3D print cell structures means that researchers can test new treatments for diseases more accurately than before, without the need for animal testing.

Researchers have developed a new 3D bioprinter called BioArm that uses material extrusion technology to print with bio inks. The printer is relatively low-cost and open source, with a custom-built print head and hackable robotic arm. It’s small, lightweight, and portable — it can be folded into a carry-on pack and transported easily to a new location, where it can be reassembled inside a biosafety cabinet.

Bioprinter enables simulated immunotherapy treatments

A cross-disciplinary research team from the University of Cambridge and King’s College London used BioArm to print a cell-laden hydrogel containing samples that simulate mouse tumors. The researchers studied the interaction between immune cells and the printed structures, called tumoroids, with cancer-associated fibroblasts. They then simulated immunotherapy treatments. Immunotherapy is a form of cancer treatment that uses the body’s immune system to identify and fight cancer cells. More details on the bioprinting process and immune cell interactions are available in an open-access paper published by the International Society for Biofabrication.

“BioArm, with its portability and ease of use, has the potential to make 3D bioprinting accessible to a wider research community,” said co-first author Yaqi Sheng, PhD student in the Biointerface Research Group at Cambridge. “This bioprinter has broken new ground — it can readily adapt to different working environments while preserving relatively high accuracy. Its adaptability, customization flexibility, and biological relevance has not yet been shown by existing low-cost and open-source bioprinters.”

BioArm can print a tumeroid in a little over a minute

The BioArm can print a tumoroid in about 90 seconds on average. In their study, the researchers used live cell imaging and image analysis to assess if the tumoroids could be used to test potential therapies as part of drug-discovery pipelines. Using high-resolution imagery, they were able to see the immune cells infiltrating the tumoroids, and discovered that the immune cells stimulated with immunotherapy moved faster than the other cells.

“Bioprinted cancer models mimic the 3D heterogeneity of real tumors,” said Corrado Mazzaglia, first author of the paper and research associate in the Biointerface Research Group. “BioArm has the potential to screen a range of tumor therapies and could play a crucial role in the future development of cancer drug testing approaches.”

Bioprinter assembly and disassembly takes 15 minutes

Unlike other bioprinters, which tend to be difficult to transport or disassemble and reassemble, the BioArm can be assembled and disassembled in 15 minutes and can be easily moved and stored. This added ease of use means that researchers can study printed cells in varying environments.

3D bioprinting is an extremely valuable asset in the fight against cancer and other diseases. The development of new drugs is a slow process, but advances in bioprinting are encouraging. Bioprinters are becoming more accessible, and the BioArm is one more step in making these important research tools as user-friendly as possible.   

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