A Singapore start-up has invented the first ever affordable modular 3D bio printer that is able to print human cells, proteins, antibodies, bacteria and plastics all within the same session.
Bio3D Technologies has introduced the Bio3D Life Printer 'X', which can be customised by inserting and removing different modules designed for printing specific materials and prints with a precision of less than 10 microns.
The creation also enables users to print with biological and non-biological materials at the same time, so synthetic cells and human tissue cells can be printed into the same object, for example, to create cell-infused scaffolds such as a plastic windpipe.
Currently there are two other 3D bio printers in the world – Organovo in San Diego and Regenovo in China, but both of these printers are expensive and mostly used by university researchers, or the 3D-printing companies that own them grow tissues and design 3D tissue models for researchers and medical institutions to use.
Hospitals around the world are starting to experiment with 3D-printing, but they typically use regular 3D-printers and print out plastic objects that surgeons can use to practice on before attempting complex surgeries.
In contrast, the Bio3D Printer X can be leased for as little as $2,399 (£1,424) and used for a vast number of applications, including drug testing, embryogenesis, regenerative medicine, tissue engineering, virology, antibodies, biofilms, bacteriology and diagnosis.
"Most of the [bioprinting] research is being done in universities and start-ups. It's not really ready for the big time yet and in some cases, the research is far ahead of government agency approval. Government agencies need to be aware of the developments in this research," Gartner research director Pete Basiliere told IBTimes UK earlier this year.
Bio3D Technologies' director and co-founder Mingwei Fan, 29, had originally been intending to go into the consumer 3D-printing business once he completed his undergraduate degree at Singapore's Nanyang Technical University.
"When I noticed that [the market was becoming] competitive and saturated, I thought I might as well go into bio-printing. [Biological sciences] is my original field ... so I thought of combining 3D printing and biological sciences," Fan told Singapore newspaper Today.
Fan has six years' experience in bio-entrepreneurship and already holds four patents, including two pertaining to micro-printing and bio-printer innovations in the Bio3D Printer X.
Gartner anticipates that the total number of consumer and enterprise 3D printer shipments will grow to over a million units by 2017, while end-users are predicted to spend over $5.7bn (£3.4bn) on 3D printers over the next three years.