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The question of whether or not technology would advance far enough to actually create living things is one that’s existed for a very long time. Today, people are working to make such a thing possible with the 3D printing technology available. Tom and Tracy Hazzard sit down with Danny Cabrera, the founder and CEO of BioBots. Danny’s company is now working towards this possibly huge breakthrough in the 3D printing landscape. Is the creation of living things with 3D printing coming in the near future?
Listen to the podcast here:
Bio 3D Printing is in the Lab with Danny Cabrera of BioBots
Bio 3D printing has been around for quite some time now, but how such a thing is possible is still surrounded by much mystery. Danny Cabrera is an expert in the field of Bio 3D printing and he sheds some light on what bio 3D printing is doing, how it works, and where he hopes to see it go as the 3D printing industry grows. Any entrepreneur can take a page from his book and find a need that needs to be filled no matter the industry.
We have had a lot of questions over the recent months about bio 3D printing and how real it is. We get a lot of bio 3D printing questions all of the time. It’s one of the first questions we get is, “I have seen that in 3D printed ear. Is that real? I have seen that on television on the internet. Are there really people doing bio 3D printing?” We have an expert. We have Danny Cabrera co-founder and CEO of BioBots.
Danny, thank you so much for joining us today on WTFFF?! were very excited to learn a lot more about your company BioBots and bio 3D printing in general.
Yes, thank you guys, thank you so much for having me. I’m excited to tell you about BioBots.
We get a lot of questions all the time from people who are saying, “Oh, I hear that they can, you know, grow cells and print them with 3D printers.” So we were so excited to have you come on and sort of field those questions and help us understand exactly what’s going on in the biology and 3D-printing fields, where they’re combining. So tell us a little bit about your company and then a little bit about how you got started there.
Sure, definitely. I started BioBots with a buddy of mine about year and a half ago and we started the company really with the main goal that we had in mind. It was to build products that could empower people to design and engineer living things. Our first product was a 3D bio printer that could print living tissues, human cells and different bio-compatible materials. So as far as how we got started and why, that was before doing this when I was a student at Penn, we had spent few years working in and out of different labs and Ricky was the co-founder, who was also a student at Penn with me. He also spent about four years working in a different lab and Ricky was working on a post-doc. He was working on building a 3D printer that could print sugar. I was also working on this product.
Ricky had built 3D printers, but Ricky had had an idea that instead of building a printer that could print plastic or sugar, or any other material, that he would build a printer that could print actual living cells. He and I were studying computer science and biology and we started working on a project and brought me on to really start doing the software behind it. The reason why I got excited about it was because working in and out of labs, you realize that biology today is primarily done by hands, by teams of highly trained technicians; mainly graduate students which spend as much as a decade, learning how to use these devices that can move really tiny volumes in and out of the plastic tubes. That’s really inaccurate, very expensive and difficult to scale up.
It’s really at this artisanal level of craft. A 3D printer, having a digital interface for fabricating these living things, seem like a much better interface to do in biology than what we were used to. It seems like what we’re using in the 21st century is all digital. You can interface with the world by typing what your hands could. That’s why I got excited about it. On the other hand, most of the biology today is done on flat – two dimension of petri dishes to grow cells and they culture on flat petri dishes and run experiments on them. But it turns out that the body is dynamic. Three-dimensional living things having cells that are interacting in 2-D is not a very good mimic. The results and effect in doing biology in 2-D for one hundred years is pretty bizarre and kind of miraculous so we’d be able to make as much progress as what we have. Also, there are few things that got me excited about it that we are working in as well, and it’s a great combination.
Wow, that’s amazing. So you’re removing the art from our science which sounds like it should be removed from our science and you’re mimicking through technology, a more natural way of growing cells. That’s just sounded like amazingly fantastic.
Thank you, thank you. we’re getting starting at it. I mean, I wouldn’t say that we have achieved that yet but that’s in the goal. BioBot 1 is helping us get there and it’s really helping our clients get there.
When we went to your website site, we saw that there was a buy-button for a biological 3D printer – I thought that was a little odd if you want to get one for your home – like are you going to be really doing bio 3D printing in your home? But it was quite pricey, so we figured it was more a lab-buy than a house-buy.
Yeah, exactly. Even if you did buy one for your house there’s little that you would do with it. It is supposed to interface for the rest of your life and you needed all the infrastructure to be able to actually use it. So even if you did buy one for your kitchen, for example, you wouldn’t be able to do much more than making frosting on a cake or something.
Well, you’d be surprised by how many people want to buy just for that purpose because there are no good enough food printers that would print like that. So, tell us a little bit about bio-ink. What is that mean? So instead of printing plastic, your material is the bio-ink. What is that?
The division of bio ink is that, in your entrepreneur, you have different cartridges. Eventually, someday, you want a place where you have different cartridges for different tissue types. Bio-inks today basically contain bio-materials or materials that are compatible with cells and we have manufactured a lot of them about a dozen of different materials that can mix: you add water or medial like salt foods, all these go into the bio-print and that what becomes your ink. There are really kinds of re-agents that are meant to be mixed and matched with different kinds of concentration and they range from the very common things like collagen or gelatin or what your body produces. There are also some synthetic things like glyco and prophylactic materials that are synthetically made.
So these are the carrier for the biocells which the lab would then add?
Yes, they are part of the mixture that gets printed and the cells are added and studied by the lab, that would probably be the case. The part of this technology offers is the flexibility to print a lot of different cell types and there are so many cells. If you look around, everybody has different cells inside their body and that’s why we have thousands, hundreds of different cell types. We really push that type of experiment and possibilities of technology.
We want to make sure about certain things. Your company exists and it appears that your first product, the BioBot 1 is actually in the market and is available. So you’re manufacturing and selling those today?
Yes, that’s right. We launched the product back in September. It was a combination of about a year of partnerships with some top universities that we had early data units and devices. We took all their feedback and designed a new product: the BioBot. We started to bring those out in January and now we have our devices in over 20 different countries and all over the states. We are gaining a lot of adoptions or attraction which is exciting because having so many people to have access with this technology, it’s increasing how quickly we are developing and how quickly we’re learning about biology. It is really bringing us so much closer to that future where we can actually design engineered living things.
Can you help us and give an idea about some examples of things that are not top secret or can we use some examples of different types of things, for lack of a better term, that your customers are printing on your printer?
Yeah. I do want to quickly clarify that all of this is absolutely in research. If you anywhere, anytime hear that somebody can print a heart or a lung, that’s not true. People are printing things on the order of a few millimeters, that is the sort of the size that biggest people can print right now that work.
They are still in a lab-stage, is that’s what you’re saying?
Exactly. Everything is still in the lab. Some of our clients are doing things like printing major tumors that can be used to test new drugs or a new premonition of drugs that go across tumors, miniature pieces of liver and skin. We also have researchers who have been working on printing aortic valves or heart valves as well as new meniscus. There are now animal studies and some of these printed new meniscus have been implanted into animals successfully.
We also have a lot of really basic science that’s been done. People who are trying to figure out how to print neurons and make them grow and form neuronetworks that work – the beginnings of brain on a chip. So yeah, we also have clients who are beginning to print neurons and beginning to figure out how to build neurons that work. These are the first steps towards a brain on a chip and eventually you can think of how do we print parts of the brain and plant them. But just in general. We have people who are working across pretty much every tissue type that we can think of, from skin to bone, cartilage, lung, lever, heart, pancreas, you name it. There is somebody out there using a BioBot to try to understand this and create parts of it.
That’s fascinating. I want to go back to something you said earlier, about how the fact that we’d been going and doing it in 2-Dimensions and now doing it in 3-Dimensions, which makes more sense. It doesn’t translate. Why would we expect something that we’ve done in a way that is not organic to not work and now we can build something in organic method. So we have a higher likelihood for success in research breakthroughs. Talk a little bit about what you mean by the three-dimension. Are we actually building it in a shape that’s supposed to be in?
3-Dimensions, basically, it means that you can control those things and most of those things are round shape, but the shape that we are talking about here are very small, since you have to remember, cells, are around the order of 30 microns. This enables and positions cells to each other with some precision. It’s already miles ahead of what we have been doing for generations. So is it about the shape or is it about micro script or the microstructure of the things you’re printing. So where do you position yourself or how closely are they? And also, how they’re interacting, or how far or close are they from the rest of the materials.
Thinking about bigger bodies, not just cells, like a piece of skin, for example, there are also collagen with different cell types in there. So things like these have complicated systems and the tools that we’re building now are helping people to try to understand how those interactions work and begin to model them in a repeatable way. So we’re going beyond the 3D factors. This is a robot, where we are doing experiments with, not just some undergrad who was drank too much last night whose hands are little shaky and maybe they can’t really read the tube that the post-doc wrote on it six months ago and scribble it down by hand; they do make mistakes. But in our case, the robot would do the very same thing in every single time, unlike the human. You then begin to re-imagine what the biobot can look like, once every single process gets re-invented in this way.
So you will get higher repeatability with bio 3D printing and that is going to help the science advance better. You’re removing those human factors that you mentioned for this machine to work better.
Right. There is a famous study that was published. It is sort of top-oncology research papers published in one of the top journals. Oncologies are well funded areas. 40% of the results on these top papers or the data is reproducible and the reproducibility factor has been attributed primarily absent of human error.
Wow. That’s amazing. There’s so many fantastic things happening in bio 3D printing. What is amazing also is that you’re a relatively new company. You started shipping in January. You’ve already got this all over the world and it seems that your system is being adopted and used in many different places. Was that your plan or has it exceeded your expectations? Or you’re still ramping up? So where do you see yourself at now?
Basically, we’re still ramping up and still manufacturing right now. I’m lucky to have such a great team. We are about 10 people and we’re still bringing up more people. We’re just scratching the surface here, of what’s possible. This whole idea of 3D has only become more accessible because of our product and people out there wanted to do the research that we can support right now. Really exciting to be in. More than that, it’s really amazing to be able to connect all these different kinds of researchers since we got here. Working on this platform and seeing the kind of breakthroughs that they’re working on and whenever they do publishing that we’re contributing to the rest of us.
We want to ask you a few questions about your machine and some of the way that it works because we’ve been reading a bit about it and we still have few questions. It seems interesting while you have a dual extruder systems. So you have two heads. Is that, in particular, two extra different kinds of cell at the same time or two different bio-mediums for cells. Can you help explain that?
It’s really meant to be completely modular in open system so you could do whatever you want with it. We don’t want to constrain some scientists. Our finding is that people usually do two different kinds of material on two different agents. Usually, one of the agents is harder, any stiffer material, and the other one is much softer material. There are also materials where one of the materials only contain the binding agents and the other contains the actual material with the cell.
It says here that it uses invisible light (blue light) to cure bio-materials without damaging the cells so that interesting because in the conventional world of desktop 3D-printing, there two different kinds of printers, one that extrude hot material such as cool and solidify and those that use liquid materials that are cured by, usually, UV light. In this case, it is sort of the combination of the two. That must be a unique need for the bio 3D printing. Is that correct?
Yeah, that’s one of the key things that we started doing differently and like what you said, most of the desktop 3D printers either melts plastic or they use high-intensity lasers to cure resin, while the heat I was using with the cells, because if you heat cells up, you’re going to pop them and kill them all. UV light doesn’t work well with cells so the first thing you would reach for is some sunscreen when you walk outside. It’s just another module. It’s another thing you can use to cure your materials which turn them from liquid into a solid. The way that it works, it’s in the videos, this could work in a traditional 3D printer and that it moves in XYZ and we use compressed air to deposit the mixture of materials and cells.
We deposit them one day at a time, and there are multiple ways of curing. Sometimes, you use the light modules and the light switches on and as soon as the light touches the material, it goes from liquid into solid. And there are other cases where we can do with some thermo-materials, and that implies high heat or sometimes low temperatures as plastics. There are also some comical-cross materials that we can use like halogenate which require a lighter temperature. In this case, there are really a lot of different materials that can be used in bio 3D printing. There are different materials inside your body and the printer must be robust and flexible enough to handle all those different materials that can be useful.
We were reading about the nomadic system to deliver the materials, and it makes sense because this a delicate material that you’re extruding. So the air system makes sense. So to stop that flow, do you just stop the pressure or just reverse it a little bit to suck it back up to the cerendrum? How’s that work?
Yes, there a bit pressure that’s applied to clean stuff.
And it seems that you have this, instead of bolt that we see in a lot of average 3D printers using a rail system. It that like a rack opinion type of thing? Or a motor moving along tiff and trail? Or some other method of moving your X and Y directions?
That’s little different. That’s actually leads-screw driven so the lead screw leads your way and that how you can ensure precision which has very different need than most desktop printers that are just focused on speed. In this case, speed is not that important. What you care about is precision.
So that’s what most 3D printer use in XYZ access: a long screw and linear guide, so you’re really doing that in each direction?
We read instructions with very precise alignments and all the parts that are relevant for precision have all been precision machined and are made of precision machine aluminum, very different from those other printers.
Aluminum. It gives you strength but reduces your weight. That’s great. We saw something on your website that we want to ask you about. We talk about designing into the gap which is exactly what you’ve done here. You created a product to fill those specific gaps and then you also have the materials to support it. But you’re also working on a software platform. It sets an important 3D design. Is this the idea that when somebody comes up with a cell structure, they all going to be downloading back and forth, that they don’t have to reinvent the cell every single time, right?
Right, yes we are developing that. Right now, our software has a printer-control system that keeps track of your experiments for you. You can use it to do some analysis of your data and begin to link up to what you’re printing with, so you design what you printed with. A lot of parts behind that are not totally operational yet but it’s set up in the way that every BioBot should be noted and graphed. Every time someone uses one of the bio-bots, they are getting better, the experience gets better for every user.
So it seems that in your field or your market with your customer, what they’re printing is not the most critical aspect of what they are trying to achieve. They’re printing something to achieve and getting results of testing something they’re printing. Correct me if I’m wrong, but there’s openness in terms of sharing how you actually print something because that’s not the end goal, it’s testing the material, an agent or something on what’s printed. Is that right?
There are different applications and in some cases, the opposite applies but we don’t really know the clear applications there going to be just yet, and we’re building the infrastructure and letting you use it. Not placing any constraints on the way people use those devices and what they want to do with them. The only way for anyone to know what the applications and how to use this technology.
But you’ve left it open for collaborative research just what the scientific research process is supposed to be like. You build up each other and the brain power, you share, you grow the research and advance the technology and the medicine together. You’ve made the availability even greater.
Yeah, we’re definitely leading by example, that front. If you go onto the website, build with life, you can see most of the research that we’re doing on the materials is open. We post the results for everyone to see and it’s different than most of the companies are doing. We let the clients and see them develop the applications and we are ready to design and change our products for them. And the only way to do that is to be truly open and transparent.
It’s like they’re making an oven and anything will going to be big in it, right? My point is they’re making tools that can be used in so many different ways, and there are some ways that we don’t know yet, but that’s okay. That seems to be a precision tool and that’s the whole point. Thank you so much Danny for sharing so much information about bio 3D printing to us today. Your website is at biobots.io.
I just want to ask you one final question, we get a lot of questions that come back to us about, they’ve seen you ear printing; that you printed on online somewhere or they see drugs being printed. Do you think that, at some point, we will be able to have that really genetically matched drugs, body parts, things made by bio 3D printing? How far do you think that is?
I mean, I don’t know. I can’t give you a number without pulling it out of a hat, but I do believe it’s going to happen whether or not it’s a bio 3D printing or some combinations of different technologies. It remains to be seen but if that’s not going to happen, there’s so many people working on it and who believe in it. We have already so much money being devoted that reminds us that this technology will come to reality, that those applications are going to be real. As far as the timeframe, it’s too early, so hard to tell and predict when it’s going to come. Hopefully, by having tools that are open, easy to use and also accessible, we can get there so much quicker.
Well, great work! You should be proud. Thank you so much for sharing that with us and our audience. It’s definitely been a gap for our knowledge-base here and we got a lot of questions about bio 3D printing, so great job and we look forward to seeing more news about the development as you move forward.
Thank you so much and thank you for taking the time to talk.
Bio 3D Printing is in the Lab with Danny Cabrera of BioBots – Final Thoughts
Our mind is pretty blown right now. There are so many things that we always talk about about bio 3D printing. Danny was in the world of what he was doing and he saw a problem. He saw that 3D printing was a good solution for it. He went out and figured it out. He worked with partners and built this whole thing. That is what we encourage people to do from a product design and entrepreneurial stand point. Find a need, a big need. Then go out there and fill it. He did it, which is 90% of the battle right there. He did and he was able to do that. Not only did he do it, he and his team, they had to invent more things than the typical person does in any other 3D print business or industry, in this market we talk about every day, right? There was not an existing delivery system. You can’t heat things up and melt things to print them because you will destroy the cells that you are trying to print. So they come up with new schematics and an air pressure delivery system. But they didn’t do it themselves. They worked with research companies. They worked with the top minds in the industry.
This is the second thing that we try to encourage people to do. Acceleration happens when you work with experts. When you work with those who already know, when you are not redeveloping everything and redoing everything yourself. They worked with that already and they collaboratively developed the best product. That’s number two.
Number three, you only say that 3D printing is going to be successful when the 3D printer itself is designed to do a very specific “what”. This one is very specific. But they have left open the power of this open ecosystem that has so much flexibility to do even more. That’s part of the point about what excites us of what they are doing. They have created a very narrow 3D printer that does few specific things but it does them extremely well. Even within that narrow focus for what this printer is meant to do, it seems like the opportunities are almost limitless as what can be done with that. The opportunities, the fields of study, of research, and the types of bio 3D printing that can be done. There are probably as many different applications as there are people in that industry, who are studying different aspects of human biology. This printer can contribute to all of them.
There are interesting ironies or conundrums out there or cognitive dissonance when you think about it. It’s very specific on one hand and on the other hand it’s a big open platform. We are just very impressed with them, their company, and these two young gentlemen who had graduated college at an advance degree. They are in their late twenties or early thirties at most. They are doing the world an incredible service with this. We would be shocked if it is not a profitable business for them.
We get excited every week about new design forms and the excitement of how we can create every day products. We have been seriously talking about creating new utensils and place settings. And here they are. Their labs are probably excited about creating tumors. The reality of what the impact bio 3D printing and BioBots could have, has blown us away. It makes us feel like design experiments seem a little small in the scope and grandness of this. When you think about it like the Makerbot 3D printers are called the Replicator which is a term borrowed from Star Trek. In that sci-fi vision of a replicator, they were making food with it and they were making things that are organic as well as inorganic. In some ways though the BioBot seems to be a lot closer to the reality of that vision of a replicator than any of the 3D printers are because they are dealing with printing things that are going to grow. It is advanced on a different level.
Here we are looking at someone who has done everything right in terms of building a business to using the 3D printing to build the basis of that business. You have the right printer going on. You have built an ecosystem or are building it. You need to invest in that. You have built the sharing program in it but you also built it a way wherein there is specialist in designing the forms. You have to create a way to make that happen as well. You created a material input as well that has its own revenue stream. From a business standpoint you have really created it in for yourself. As well as doing a great service into a gap and something necessary. You are making your clients a hero. That’s what’s going to happen here. Now they are making these labs able to have these replicatable results. Which means that the lab will be more successful which means those researchers will be more successful. Everyone wins in the end because if that happens in the speed of researching and development in drugs and medical, comes down and speeds up all of our costs go down. This is a good tipping point for something that could really change the overall scope of the medical world.
Bio 3D printing can certainly accelerate a lot of development process as it should we would like to believe that a lot of these research companies are in it to try to lower the cost for the rest of us. For the drugs and things. But too many companies are all after the almighty profit dollar and pocket that maybe more so than pass it on us. It’s too bad.
But also what if our health improves because of these advances? The costs are actually going to come down. Without being cynical about the medical market. We don’t get overly excited about product companies and things. He was talking and we had a goose bump level that we are witnessing a tipping point. Right now we just witnessed and are seeing a ripple effect to changing the entire world during our children’s lifetime in the medical world. That’s a big deal that we are witnessing right now and we are so grateful that he came on our show. It very nice of him to give his time. We are going to sing him praises and help him spread the word about bio 3D printing with the people we talk to. Hopefully that’ll help him with the exposure of our website as well. Investment is necessary here and it’s very worthwhile.
This is a very well-constructed machine, and it needs to be for bio 3D printing. For other people that aspire to build a new 3D printer machine or build a new company around a new machine, we would say that taking a good close look on this printer is a great one to model on and learn from in terms of how it is built and its level of precision especially. When you start talking about getting down the ten or five micron prints, some of what they have done could be more precise in every axis. On most printers it’s just on the Z axis of what they have done. We are impressed by it as a machine engineering example. This is not an overly fancy design. It fits the lab and where it’s going to go. Everything about is clean. It’s obviously easy to clean. All of the things it needs to do.
If you have any great stories to tell about medical advances and drug advances and all sorts of things that you are hearing about in your areas, we would love to hear about them. Go comment below these show notes. Let us know what you got about bio 3D printing or anything else related. If you have something cool to show, even if these are photos or videos, put the link in the post so we can see them easily. We are very pleased to do that.
About Danny Cabrera
Biology is the most sophisticated manufacturing technology that we know of. If we could control life, we could cure disease, eliminate the organ waiting list, revert climate change and push life to other planets. However, our ability to engineer living systems has been restricted by the lack of standard tools that exist for manipulating biology. Danny started BioBots to address this need by creating a suite of digital biofabrication tools. Together with our partners and clients, we are blending biology with robotics and
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