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Economical Custom-Made 3D BioPrinter
Lucas Craft, Depts. of Electrical and Computer Engineering & Physics, with Dr. Daeha Joung, Dept. of Physics
Bioprinters are used to extrude biomaterials that contain living cells to develop synthetic organ and tissue models. Being able to 3D bioprint these models allows us to build the small intricate structures that mimic complicated living organs. As of now, the technology is expensive, with the average bioprinter exceeding ten thousand dollars. The high price often makes this tool a high-risk investment for many biomedical companies and researchers who may want to use this technology for research. Fortunately, the components that make a bioprinter could become inexpensive, especially with the open-source environment 3D printers have become. Altering the firmware and mechanics of a 3D printer can be relatively simple. To make a cost-effective bioprinter, inexpensive 3D printer parts can be used to make the system necessary for bioprinting. For this system, a one-hundred-dollar 3D printer (Fused Deposition Modeling based) is used for the XYZ movement and machine control from the included motherboard. A holder was designed for two pipettes to replace the plastic extruder the inexpensive printer came with. The biomaterials (including cells and hydrogels) are extruded out of the pipettes using air pressure from an air compressor and controlled using thirty-dollar solenoids. To incorporate the pneumatic system with the 3D printer, the open-source firmware Marlin was altered to use a header file (.h file) called Baricuda, which was designed for extruding chocolate for elaborate candy sculptures. Baricuda is used for the extruding system of a bioprinter using air pressure control to push biomaterials through a pipette for extrusion. Another critical aspect of a bioprinter is maintaining the viability of the living cells, which needs to be at average body temperature (37 ℃). For this, an insulation chamber will be made to completely contain the 3D printer so that the heat from the bedplate is used to warm the whole system’s environment. A thermistor mounted at the top of the printer will be used to ensure the temperature is maintained. Overall, the cost for a bioprinter like this will be less than one-thousand-dollars, depending on the type of air compressor. Air compressor cost aside, the printer costs approximately three-hundred-dollars, making it far cheaper than the ones on the market today.
Daeha Joung, Ph.D.
Virginia Commonwealth University. Undergraduate Research Opportunities Program
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