Chennai Startup’s Game-Changing Bio 3D Printer Prints Human Tissues

In a significant breakthrough earlier this month, Avay Biosciences, a Chennai-based deep tech startup, launched their indigenous ‘state-of-the-art’ bio 3D printer that can print human tissues. 

Called ‘Mito Plus’, the printer was launched during the Bengaluru Tech Summit held between 16 and 18 November 2022. This milestone is important, but why? 

Before answering this question, it’s imperative to understand what bioprinting is. It’s a method of tissue replication that uses ‘bioinks’, which are engineered to print artificial living tissues like skin. 

What is bioink? 

Speak to The Better India, Manish Amin, CEO of Avay Biosciences, says, “Bioinks are gels or pastes which contain two key components — the cells for the type of tissue we are targeting, and biomaterial that can support the cells and aid their growth. Gelatin and collagen are chemically processed from meat, bones, and cartilage to make them. They imitate the cell’s environment as it would have been within the body, and so are used as support structures (scaffolds) upon which cells grow and connect.”

In a recent release issued by Avay Biosciences, they note, “Bioinks are materials engineered to allow the specific type of cells to grow and multiply while supporting the tissue’s structure.” 

They can be broadly divided into these categories:

  • Structural – These inks are used to create frameworks or supports for the structure.
  • Sacrificial – These inks are aimed at supporting structures during the printing process but are later removed or consumed by the cells to be replaced by their own materials. 
  • Functional – These inks are used to guide a specific function like cellular growth, development and differentiation.

Does Mito Plus print human tissue? These bioprinted tissues look very much like the human tissues we have in our body. 

Manish notes, “Printing tissue currently means using bioinks — cells mixed in biomaterial — to create scaffolds. The live scaffolds are then placed in an incubator, which provides the right environment for the cells’ growth and allows them to connect with tissue-like tissue. Scientists are still trying to verify that these complicated scaffolds behave exactly like real tissue. Identifying these differences would lead to huge steps forward in understanding and artificially growing entire organs — something that globally we are still aspiring to achieve.”

Mito Plus 3D Bio Printer

Evolution of the bio-3D printer 

IISc, Bangalore was the place where Mito Plus was first installed. Today’s version of the bio 3D printing machine is an advanced version that was developed using inputs from the prototype created by Dr Bikramjit Basu, a university researcher. 

Avay Biosciences is a completely independent software and hardware developer for bio 3D printing solutions.

“We originally built the Mito Basic prototype. It was simple and took us only four months to complete this project. Today, many college students try to create their own bioprinters. It was difficult to move from prototypes to products. Are all software bugs fixed? Can the printing be repeated? Can we provide better quality parts and features?” asks Manish.  

All this led to them expanding their design, manufacturing, electrical and software teams to build something that soon was far removed from the original version — a true bioprinter. 

“There were many small improvements along the way — adding systems for temperature control, many trials of different UV bulbs and LEDs, and after many mistakes, we now have a system that is ready to launch in the market. But, it is not perfect. We will continue to resolve existing issues and develop new and innovative features that our customers keep asking for until our printer is the default for all tissue engineering research,” he adds. 

Avay Biosciences has its own 3D printers and around 70% of the manufacturing is done in Chennai or Bengaluru. A dedicated software team works tirelessly to improve the quality of their software and add new features.

‘State of the art’

“MITO plus is one of the most advanced bioprinters in its price range. It can print a wide variety of biomaterials. The printer also has UV curing capabilities. HEPA filters are included in the printer. The temperature control is another key feature. The printhead and print bed can be heated to 80 degrees Celsius, and they can cool down to 4 degrees Celsius. MITOplus can be used in pharmaceutical drug discovery or testing. It can also be used in cancer biology and cosmetology applications,” says Manish.

These features are what make bioprinting possible. Many biomaterials are quite temperature-sensitive and require precise environmental conditions. 

“By controlling the extrusion temperature, the viscosity of the material can be controlled to an extent. This feedback was provided by Dr Bikramjit Basu, a key collaborator in bone tissue development, and Dr Prajakata jain at the Institute of Chemical Technology Mumbai (ICT), in skin tissue engineering. Hence, this is an important feature we wanted to develop,” explains Suhridh Sundaram, chief operating officer, Avay Biosciences.  

“This allows the researchers to be able to adjust the printing parameters and fine-tune it for precise scaffolds. UV light can also cause some materials to harden or cure. Since these materials are gels, to achieve more layers we need such curing or else the bottom layers get compressed and do not maintain structural integrity,” he adds.

Human tissue printed by Mito Plus 3D Bio Printer launched by Avay Biosciences: The future application of bioprinting include replacing organ transplant.
Mito Plus 3D Bio Printer prints tissue

Future applications

Bioprinting is one subset of the wider 3D printing market. Most 3D printing is done with plastics and other polymers. Bioprinting works with live cells or gel-like polymer materials. 

With one key difference, bioprinters operate in the exact same manner as other 3D printers. Bioprinters do not deliver materials like metal, plastic, or powders. They deposit layers made of biomaterials which may contain living cells. This allows them to construct complex structures, such as skin tissue, liver tissue, and so on. 

“3D bioprinting is a unique gift to humanity by science and technology. There are still many challenges to be overcome. There is still a long way to go before we can create fully functioning and viable organs for human transplant,” says Manish.

The availability of affordable bioprinters is essential for developing artificial organs. Future research relies on it. In India alone, there are thousands of people who die each year due to the inability to find suitable organ donors. Even if someone is able find one, the cost of a transplant can exceed Rs 10 lakh. This does not include the cost for anti-rejection drugs.

Suhridh explains “Our approach to the creation of entirely new organs begins with the journey of creating new tissue samples — a critical stepping stone for a very long-term and difficult journey. In collaboration with ICT Mumbai, we are working on having our printers develop skin — the most common type of layered tissue that could help victims of severe burns. These tissues can also serve as toxicology screens or other testing methods. People can contact us for more details on the research being conducted, and how we can help your mission.”

Meanwhile, Manis adds, “There are other applications. For pharmaceutical companies, to be able to test drugs on lab-grown tissue instead of facing regulatory hurdles of animal trials and human clinical trials would greatly accelerate our capability for research into new molecules, and identify risks much earlier on, thereby saving research costs that do not bear fruition.”

Avay is able to build a bio 3D printer which can produce artificial organs, eliminating the need for transplants. 

“Avay is very far indeed from artificial organs. There is much research to be done. This multidisciplinary research project requires the assistance of tissue engineering researchers, material scientists, surgeons, and stem cell and regenerative medicine practitioners to create the best biomaterial scaffolds and the best ways to implant these organs. We continuously take feedback from all these relevant parties and are working on the engineering as well as biomaterial side for now to give researchers the best solutions that can be imagined,” notes Manish. 

The startup is still collaborating with top Indian research and education institutes such as IIT Madras (ICT-Mumbai), National Institute of Pharmaceutical Education And Research, (NIPER), Hyderabad, National Institute of Pharmaceutical Education And Research, (NIPER), Hyderabad) and BITS Pilani, (Goa Campus). Startups like Avay Biosciences are leading the charge in India’s private sector. 

According to various reports, the market for 3D bioprinting is valued at USD1.3 billion in 2022, and projected to grow to USD3.3 billion by 2027. It is highly sought-after in the pharmaceutical and cosmetology sectors.

(You can find out more about Avay Biosciences at their website. All images courtesy Avay Biosciences.

(Edited and compiled by Divya Sathu

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