#3DStartup: BIOLIFE4D is pioneering advances in tissue engineering
3D printing is becoming more and more advanced and implemented in more important sectors. One of these sectors is the medical industry that’s opening up for new possibilities and solutions. One of the bigger problems is the amount of organ donations needed versus the amount available on a yearly level. In the US alone there is more than 100.000 citizens on the transplant waiting list. Multiple people die every year from not receiving an organ in time. One company working on revolutionising and moving us towards the future is BIOLIFE4D making progress in bioprinted tissues. In short they research and develop new methods to provide organs for donations, future drug testing etc. We had a chance to interview their CEO Steven Morris to learn more.
3DN: Can you please introduce yourself and BIOLIFE4D?
My name is Steven Morris and I am the Founding Partner and CEO of BIOLIFE4D, a biotech pioneer leveraging advances in tissue engineering to 3D print human organs viable for transplant and trying to solve the incredible lack of supply of donor organs on a global level and the tremendous challenges that those lucky enough to receive donor organs currently face.
3DN: Tell us more about the projects you are working on?
Our end mission is to 3D bioprint human hearts viable for transplant thus addressing the lack of supply issue, and we are doing it using the patient’s own cells so there will be no chance of rejection and no need for the tremendously undesirable immunosuppressant therapy which current donor recipients have to deal with, which itself can contribute to life threatening circumstances.
On our way to that goal we have identified several shorter-term opportunities which we plan to roll out which address lesser advanced heart disease, each of which could have a profound effect on how heart disease is treated. The very first of these opportunities that we have been able to achieve is a cardiac patch which not only has incredible applications and the ability to improve the quality of life for countless people but it was equally important to BIOLIFE4D as it demonstrated our ability to 3D bioprint human cardiac tissue using our sophisticated process.
For each of these opportunities we will follow essentially the same process. We 3D print (lay down 1 layer at a time) living human cells which were derived from the cells of the patient and based on a 3D model to build the heart from the bottom up. But instead of fusing the layers together by heat or curing the material, with, for instance UV light to make the layers join together (in our case that would kill the living cells we are using in the printing process), we place down a support scaffolding to keep the cells in their proper place and then let the normal biologic self-assembly process do rest. This is the same process that happens naturally in your body which has evolved through millions of years of evolution in which the cells naturally know that they are supposed to join together and perform certain functions. We have a great description of this process on our website at https://biolife4d.com/process/ as well as a video which illustrates this process. In the end, what we are essentially doing is providing the right conditions outside of the body to facilitate the exact same biologic process which happens naturally inside of the body and then we let nature finish the process off for us.
3DN: What are the hopes for the end result of the projects and the timeline set?
Saving lives. Lots of them. Nearly 1 out of every 3 people in the developed world – globally – die from cardiovascular disease and there are billions of people alive now. And as unimaginable as it may seem, only about 5,000 heart transplants took place world-wide last year. In the US alone, only 2% of people waiting on the transplant list received donor hearts last year. We know that advances in the life sciences, bioengineering and 3D bioprinting are finally at a point where we can now undertake the process of bioengineering a human heart that is 3D bioprinted using a patient’s own cells as the bio-ink which can be used for transplantation for the patient. When we bring this technology to the market it can have a profound impact on the healthcare industry and humanity as a whole. And we are not only trying to save countless human lives, we are also working on our next opportunity, or milestone, which we believe had the potential to spare millions of animal lives as well by providing an alternative to certain forms of animal testing currently required for pharmaceutical companies to undertake in their process of providing new drugs and therapies for human use.
Regarding timing, it is really impossible for us to know a definite timeline because we are dealing with science and trying to essentially recreate in our lab what took nature millions of years to perfect. In short we just don’t know what we don’t know, what potential obstacles lie around the corner. We just successfully 3D bioprinted human cardiac tissue over a year ahead of our projected timeline so we believe we are definitely on the right track. And by the end of this year or ealy next year we are planning to unveil our “mini-heart” which is a miniature version of a human heart (about the size of a mouse heart) we feel it will, on its own, be a game changer by not only help establishing our capability to 3D bioprint a human heart but also represent our first large potential commercial opportunity. And because of the time frame uncertainty, and knowing how many people we have the potential to help I can tell you that BIOLIFE4D has assembled a preeminent team of experts who are laser focused and who have backgrounds from Harvard, MIT, Carnegie Mellon, UVA, Johns Hopkins and many other incredible institutions to help bring this incredible life-saving technology to the market in the shortest period of time possible. All that said, it is our hope that with appropriate resources we could have some very exciting news in the next few years.
3DN: How did BIOLIFE4D start?
After I sold my last business it was my intention to start a new company in the 3D printing space. At first my plan was to start a rapid prototyping company for the medical industry but before long I realised that the life sciences, computing technology, bioengineering and the other related fields that are critical to bioengineering a human organ viable for transplantation were finally at a point which, if the proper team was assembled, had the potential to become a reality. Recognising the tremendous toll across the globe that cardiovascular disease takes on humanity, taking the lives of 1 out of every 3 people in every developed country across the globe, and knowing that the technology that ultimately BIOLIFE4D is currently working to bring to the market could combat that I decided to start BIOLIFE4D to bring this live-saving technology to the market in the shortest time possible.
3DN: Where do you see Bioprinting going in the future?
3D printing in general is already making a tremendous impact in both research and clinical applications. It is already being utilized, for example, by pediatric cardiac surgeons to produce simulated heart models from scans of the child’s heart which they can then use to practice the surgery before they have to actually perform it on the child. We use bioprinting for our technology which is a highly specialized form of 3D printing in which living biological material such as cells are used as the ink to create constructs. In our case we use cells which we have re-engineered from a patient’s own cells to 3D to bioprint living tissues and ultimately a heart. As such the potential applications are almost limitless. Once we perfect the technology for a heart we can leverage that process towards the bioengineering of other organs such as a kidney, lung, liver and more. When we are able to bioprint these different organs the effect on mankind will be transforming. One example is a potential cure for type 1 diabetes – for individuals whose pancreas isn’t producing the appropriate levels of insulin a healthy bioengineered pancreas transplant could end their diabetes. And bioprinting such as we are working on for healthcare is only one of many bioprinting applications. Clearly bioprinting is aligned to have a profound impact on humanity.
Get a better understanding of the process here:
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