Researchers at Carnegie Mellon University have developed a low-cost 3D bioprinter by modifying a standard desktop 3-D printer, and they have released the breakthrough designs as open source so that anyone can build their own system. The researchers—Materials Science and Engineering (MSE) and Biomedical Engineering (BME) Associate Professor Adam Feinberg, BME postdoctoral fellow TJ Hinton, and Kira Pusch, a recent graduate of the MSE undergraduate program—recently published a paper in the journal HardwareX that contains complete instructions for printing and installing the syringe-based, large volume extruder (LVE) to modify any typical, commercial plastic printer.
“What we’ve created,” says Pusch, “is a large volume syringe pump extruder that works with almost any open source fused deposition modeling (FDM) printer. This means that it’s an inexpensive and relatively easy adaptation for people who use 3-D printers.”
As the researchers explain in their paper, “Large volume syringe pump extruder for desktop 3D printers,” most commercial 3-D bioprinters currently on the market range in cost from $10,000 to more than $200,000 and are typically proprietary machines, closed source, and difficult to modify.
“Essentially, we’ve developed a bioprinter that you can build for under $500, that I would argue is at least on par with many that cost far more money,” says Feinberg, who is also a member of the Bioengineered Organs Initiative at Carnegie Mellon. “Most 3-D bioprinters start between $10K and $20K. This is significantly cheaper, and we provide very detailed instructional videos. It’s really about democratizing technology and trying to get it into more people’s hands.”
And not only does the LVE cut down on cost, it also allows users to print artificial human tissue on a larger scale and at higher resolution, opening doors for researchers, makers, and professionals to experiment with 3-D printing biomaterials and fluids.
“Usually there’s a trade-off,” explains Feinberg, “because when the systems dispense smaller amounts of material, we have more control and can print small items with high resolution, but as systems get bigger, various challenges arise.