American Process Inc. and Swansea University Medical School have entered into a Joint Development Agreement (JDA) to develop 3D printed tissue cartilage made from human cells and nanocellulose for use in facial reconstruction. The project is funded by an award granted to Swansea’s Reconstructive Surgery and Regenerative Medicine (ReconRegen) Research Group by the United Kingdom’s Medical Research Council. This multi-disciplinary technology development collaboration includes plastic surgeons, engineers, scientists, and the nanocellulose manufacturer, American Process Inc.
Swansea’s ReconRegen group has previously shown that nanocellulose is compatible with human cells and can be printed as a support tissue structure. The group has also shown that living cells can survive the 3D printing process. Under this JDA, cells will be blended with various formulations of nanocellulose scaffold material and 3D-printed into tissues for reconstructive surgery. The goal of the project is to produce anatomically-shaped tissues tailored for individual patients that are durable enough to survive indefinitely and able to withstand degradation, long term. This would be the first step towards personalised reconstruction.
According to project leader Professor Iain Whitaker, “3D printing is increasingly used to manufacture prosthetics and implants from materials like plastic or titanium. But bio-printing – using human cells instead of man-made material – is a promising new science. We are printing living tissues, living structures, tailored to the needs of individual patients. We hope that in the future, patients who have lost all or part of their ear or nose through trauma or cancer could have reconstruction using new tissue which is grown from their own cells using nanocellulose. Biomaterials are a key component of our tissue printing technology and nanocellulose is our biomaterial of choice because of its biocompatibility, mechanical and structural properties that can support cell attachment and growth in three-dimensions.”
As a novel biomaterial, nanocellulose has various characteristics that make it a preferred component for “bioinks”. Its high water holding capacity and unique particle assembly in water causes nanocellulose to form shear-thinning gels that flow easily during printing but becomes firm gel-like three-dimensional structures when deposited on a surface. In addition, nanocellulose self-assembles to form dense, smooth, and strong structures after drying. Research has also shown nanocellulose to be non-cytotoxic to growing cells.
According to Zita Jessop, an MRC Clinical Research Fellow, “We chose to partner with API because of their unique nanocellulose process that produces a variety of nanocellulose products with various particle sizes and surface chemistry and because of their ability to provide large quantities needed for our technology development efforts. We also depend on their expertise in handling and processing this unique material in our application.” Dr Ayesha Al-Sabah, a ReconRegen Postdoctoral Fellow, reported that “on trialing the nanocellulose bioink it became clear that the rheological properties were ideally suited to nozzle-based 3D bioprinting”.
According to Theodora Retsina, CEO of API, “Nanocellulose has a variety of advantages that we expect to significantly impact the growing biomedical engineering field. Tissue engineering alone will have significant impact on the global economy. According to a recent market report, the global market will increase from US$23 billion currently to over US$94 billion by 2022. We are thrilled to collaborate with the innovators at Swansea who are contributing to this global growth. We built our BioPlus® nanocellulose demonstration plant to support efforts such as this to develop break-through technologies that will provide solutions for a more healthful, prosperous future for global citizens.”
The BioPlus nanocellulose technology is currently being demonstrated at API’s Thomaston Biorefinery in Thomaston, Georgia which is also the site of the company’s research and development laboratory. API has positioned itself as a leader in the nanocellulose intellectual property (IP) landscape with over 100 patents pending in the field and four granted in the US. Under the terms of the Joint Development Agreement, it is anticipated that third-parties interested in commercializing technologies developed during the project in the fields of 3D bioprinting, plastic surgery, and tissue reconstruction with nanocellulose will license IP from both API and Swansea University.