Accessible bioprinting: adaptation of a low-cost 3D-printer for precise cell placement and stem cell differentiation

Biofabrication. 2016 Jun 7;8(2):025017. doi: 10.1088/1758-5090/8/2/025017.


The precision and repeatability offered by computer-aided design and computer-numerically controlled techniques in biofabrication processes is quickly becoming an industry standard. However, many hurdles still exist before these techniques can be used in research laboratories for cellular and molecular biology applications. Extrusion-based bioprinting systems have been characterized by high development costs, injector clogging, difficulty achieving small cell number deposits, decreased cell viability, and altered cell function post-printing. To circumvent the high-price barrier to entry of conventional bioprinters, we designed and 3D printed components for the adaptation of an inexpensive 'off-the-shelf' commercially available 3D printer. We also demonstrate via goal based computer simulations that the needle geometries of conventional commercially standardized, 'luer-lock' syringe-needle systems cause many of the issues plaguing conventional bioprinters. To address these performance limitations we optimized flow within several microneedle geometries, which revealed a short tapered injector design with minimal cylindrical needle length was ideal to minimize cell strain and accretion. We then experimentally quantified these geometries using pulled glass microcapillary pipettes and our modified, low-cost 3D printer. This systems performance validated our models exhibiting: reduced clogging, single cell print resolution, and maintenance of cell viability without the use of a sacrificial vehicle. Using this system we show the successful printing of human induced pluripotent stem cells (hiPSCs) into Geltrex and note their retention of a pluripotent state 7 d post printing. We also show embryoid body differentiation of hiPSC by injection into differentiation conducive environments, wherein we observed continuous growth, emergence of various evaginations, and post-printing gene expression indicative of the presence of all three germ layers. These data demonstrate an accessible open-source 3D bioprinter capable of serving the needs of any laboratory interested in 3D cellular interactions and tissue engineering.

Publication types

  • Evaluation Study

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Bioprinting / economics
  • Bioprinting / instrumentation
  • Bioprinting / methods*
  • Cell Differentiation*
  • Cell Survival
  • Humans
  • Induced Pluripotent Stem Cells / cytology*
  • Printing, Three-Dimensional / economics
  • Printing, Three-Dimensional / instrumentation*
  • Rats
  • Tissue Engineering / economics
  • Tissue Engineering / instrumentation
  • Tissue Scaffolds / chemistry