University of Iowa graduate student Howard Chen, along with assistant professor Ibrahim Ozbolat, has created a multi-arm 3D bioprinter they believe gives the university an advantage over other bioprinting research labs. It took them about a semester to go from concept to first print and already the lab's research has benefited from the design.
Bioprinters at other laboratories like those in use at Wake Forest, Cornell and Organovo only have one arm and use multiple heads to print materials one at a time. It's slow going and the technology is still in its infancy. Each of these laboratories hopes to achieve printable, transplantable human organs within ten years, but Chen and Ozbolat believe their printer may be able to speed the process up a little.
Because it has two arms instead of one, the University of Iowa's printer can lay down multiple materials simultaneously. For example, one arm of the machine can be used to print blood vessels while the other arm lays down tissue-specific cells in between the blood vessel networks. As their research progresses, this may result in more stable organs than those printed on a single arm printer.
Right now, researchers at the University of Iowa are using their new 3D bioprinter to work on a cure for diabetes. "One of the most promising research activities is bioprinting a glucose-sensitive pancreatic organ that can be grown in a lab and transplanted anywhere inside the body to regulate the glucose level of blood," says Ozbolat. If they succeed, they will help approximately 25.8 million children and adults in the United States who have the disease.
You can take a look at the multi-arm 3D bioprinter in action here: