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This content is taken from the University of Wollongong's online course, Bioprinting: 3D Printing Body Parts. Join the course to learn more.

Skip to 0 minutes and 9 seconds The 3D biofab facility is located at St. Vincent’s Hospital in Melbourne. The establishment of this facility in a clinical environment has enabled us to bring together scientists, engineers, and clinicians to tackle real clinical challenges.

Skip to 0 minutes and 27 seconds This is the first lab we’re going to look at today here the 3D biofab facility. Can you tell us a little bit about the types of activities that go on here? Yeah, well, this lab is all about 3D printing. So we’ve got a range of different 3D printers here. It’s where we develop our new materials, test them for printability, and begin the process of biofabrication. Can you give me an example of a couple of the types of projects that are ongoing at the moment? Absolutely. So there are several key projects in the orthopaedic field. So we’re taking cells from human patients at the hospital and we’re printing out cartilage tissue, for example.

Skip to 1 minute and 5 seconds And in other projects, we’re developing neuronal constructs, basically printed brain cells in a dish, which we can study their electrical activity and we can connect them to prosthetic limbs, for example. There’s a whole range of projects going on, from bone to muscle, cartilage to brain. So let’s go and have a look at the other parts of this amazing facility. Let’s go. Here is one of our state of the art bioprinters. The really special thing here is that we’re using cells from patients– patients who will, actually, have the disease that we’re trying to develop a treatment for. What’s an example of a project at the moment where that accessibility of those living cells from patients is really making a difference?

Skip to 1 minute and 54 seconds Well, the main one would be in treating osteoarthritis. Normally, the human body can’t repair this disease. We can take cells from patients who have the disease and try and treat those cells so that they can repair the body in a way that it cannot normally do. And I would imagine that being in a clinical environment like this and developing these 3D bioprinting projects, you would start to think it’d be the complete package, the complete solution to the clinical challenge. And part of that would be, as you’ve just mentioned, getting access to those cells, harvesting those cells, growing them up for the 3D printing process. It’s really a complete package that has to be delivered.

Skip to 2 minutes and 36 seconds That’s right, and it has to be delivered in a short time frame, too. So we can print cells and over some weeks we can repair tissue, but doing it in a short time frame is key. So we are undergoing projects where we’re taking cells and treating them to be re-implanted on the same day, or even within the same operation. So we might just have a look at another very exciting project that uses living cells, patient’s own cells, and that’s the “Brain on the bench project”. Yeah. Let’s go. Tell me a little bit about that.

Skip to 3 minutes and 6 seconds Well, the big challenge at the moment is if a patient has epilepsy, for example, and to study that epileptic activity, usually you need to put electrodes on their head and then monitor that activity. What we can do is actually take stem cells from fat, for example, or from blood, turn those cells into brain cells, and then study that brain cell activity here on the bench using our special microscopes and electrical activity monitoring machines.

Skip to 3 minutes and 36 seconds So a project like this involves the development of those materials, as we’ve seen in the first laboratory, the isolation and culturing and proliferation of cells, the incorporation of those into the ink, 3D printing that neural network type structure, and then, of course, the characterization of that neural network, either electrically or perhaps even molecular level characterization in order to complete the investigation. That’s right. And each of those steps has been groundbreaking in the last five years. Being able to take stem cells and turn them into brain cells, being able to print them in three dimension environments, and being able to study them in those three dimension environments are all new things in the field of biology.

Skip to 4 minutes and 22 seconds Obviously this facility is designed to capture all of those key activities. The materials development, the development and integration of living cells, of the patient’s own cells, and the complete characterization of that structure after printing and as it continues to develop. And it requires specialists from very different backgrounds to come all together. We’ve got to have biologists, molecular biologists, electrical engineers, as well as the clinicians who are overseeing the project to really make this happen.

Hospitals of the future

“We can rebuild him. We have the technology” – The Six Million Dollar Man (1973)


For the past few weeks you have gone on a journey that seems at times futuristic. Can you now imagine a hospital of the future with the following scenario:

There’s been an accident. The ambulances respond quickly. They are airborne craft, ensuring delivery of patients in a critical condition in record speed. During transit, 3D scans are taken of the patient and images are beamed ahead to the hospital. Robotic 3D printers prepare customised structures to stabilise the patient upon arrival. For internal injuries, the patient’s stem cells are located and the ink formulation relevant to the injury site is prepared. The operating theatre tools are modified so as the appropriate bio-ink reservoirs can be loaded and the correct print heads fixed to enable delivery to the injury site. The surgeon is ready to go. Unfortunately the patient will lose a limb. Technicians need to print a structure that will enable neural communications to drive the prosthetic. Meanwhile, upstairs in the clinical rooms, patients’ stem cells are being secured to enable routine screening for neurological diseases. Using a bench-top brain made with the patient’s stem cells, researchers team-up with clinicians to determine the most appropriate treatment to prevent disease development. Back to the surgery. The clinician plans the surgery with his robotic printing partner, several technicians are on hand should the printers malfunction.

Conversation starter

  • How far away do you think we are from this scenario?

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This video is from the free online course:

Bioprinting: 3D Printing Body Parts

University of Wollongong