EVENTS, ADVANCES, AND NEWS
■ BY JEFF ECKERT
■ Howard Chen, developer of the multi-arm bioprinter,
works to build multicellular structures.
PRINT ME A PANCREAS, PLEASE
Somewhere within the University of Iowa ( www.uiowa.edu) lies the Center for Computer Aided Design, within which
exists the Advanced Manufacturing Technology (AMTecH)
group. The group was formed to design, create, and test a
variety of electromechanical and biomedical components,
systems, and processes that will help to revive manufacturing
activities in the US. The group is working on projects ranging
from automotive and aviation printed circuit boards, but
possibly the most interesting research area relates to
replacement parts for damaged and failing human organs and
tissue. The fascinating aspect is that the researchers — rather
than working with harvested organs — are endeavoring to
create living, multi-cellular body parts using a multi-arm 3D
printer and "bio-ink."
According to co-director Ibrahmi Ozbolat, "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." The key is the multi-arm printer design that
allows several materials to be printed at the same time. That
way, one arm can be printing blood vessels while the others
create tissue-specific cells that the vessels link.
"The long-term goal of this branch," noted the other
co-director, Tim Marler, "is to create functioning human organs
some five or 10 years from now. This is not far fetched."
Ongoing research is supported by the National Institutes of
Health, the Electric Power Research Institute (EPRI), and other
10 June 2013
SUBCUTANEOUS CHEMISTRY LAB
For many people, the old Cole Porter tune, "I've Got You Under My Skin," is just a charming old love
song. Some of us — being perhaps slightly
tomophobic — find it more disturbing than romantic.
In any event, the concept has moved beyond lyrical
metaphor and into the form of a minuscule personal
blood testing lab developed at the École
Polytechnique Fédérale de Lausanne (EPFL,
www.epfl.ch). The device — measuring only about
14 mm (0.55 in) long — actually contains five sensors,
a coil for generating wireless power, and a transmitter
allowing it to communicate via Bluetooth. Data is
routed to a mobile phone, then to the doctor's cell
phone. Outside the body, a battery patch generates
0.1W of power, so it never needs a battery
replacement. The device is still in the prototype
phase, but it has been demonstrated to detect up to
five targeted proteins and organic acids
simultaneously, including lactate, glucose, and
adenosine triphosphate (ATP, used by cells to store
Each sensor is coated with a specific enzyme that
allows it to detect the substance of interest.
"Potentially, we could detect just about anything,"
explained EPFL scientist Giovanni De Micheli. "But the
enzymes have a limited lifespan, and we have to
design them to last as long as possible."
Presently, that amounts to about 1.5 months,
after which the implant is removed. Various
applications are under consideration, but the device
may be especially useful in chemotherapy to help
monitor a patient's reaction to a particular dosage.
Researchers hope the system will be commercially
available within four years. ▲
■ The EPFL's prototype blood testing
implant measures only about 14 mm.