Michael Joyce is a graduate student focused on bioprinting. He strives to progress the harmonization of additive manufacturing, regenerative medicine, tissue engineering, bio-compatibility and material sciences. SE3D had the pleasure of connecting with Michael at the 3DHeals 2018 Conference.
Cecillia: Michael, can you describe your research expertise in bioprinting?
Michael: I graduated with a B.S. in Cell and Molecular Biology and then went to work for an international 3D printing company for 3 years. Naturally, I have always wanted to combine these two fields into one. So when I left my 3D printing job, I returned to graduate school to study Stem Cell Biology in a program that allowed me to use 3D printers as a tool to guide differentiation of patient specific induced pluripotent stem cells (iPSC). Bioprinting requires a diverse skill set and because of my background in both fields, I felt a responsibility to use the knowledge I gained in each respective field to help ensure that bioprinting succeeds.
Cecillia: What kind of research is currently going on in your lab?
Michael: Our bioprinting lab collaborates with many research groups in different areas of research, the two main ones are pediatric research and lung regeneration. Bioprinting has the potential to treat certain pediatric conditions in a way that allows the bioprinted tissues to grow along with the patient. This means that patients may only require one corrective operation to treat a condition that otherwise would require many follow up surgeries as the patient grows. My work specifically has always focused on overcoming the vascularized tissue challenge. Capillaries are a challenging structure to print de-novo because of the high resolution (8µm~20µm), and multi-material requirements that it takes to produce a functioning capillary. I am confident the industry will eventually be able to bioprint fully functional, and vascularized tissues.
Cecillia: Why should people care about bioprinting and what makes it exciting?
Michael: Every year there are patients on the organ transplant waitlist who pass away before they can acquire a compatible transplant organ. Bioprinting has the potential to overcome the shortage of transplant tissues, and that’s why it is exciting. Bioprinted organs can be made from the patient’s own stem cells, meaning that transplant recipients would no longer require immunosuppressive drugs which often lead to other complications and low 5 year survival rates.
Cecillia: How does your lab utilize bioprinting in research?
Michael: Our bioprinting lab at the University of Minnesota (directed by Dr. Angela Panoskaltsis-Mortari) uses bioprinters as a tool to strategically place cells, extracellular matrix proteins, and cell signaling factors in a predetermined arrangement in order to create 3D tissues. We could load many of the same materials into syringes and try to arrange them by hand but you will not achieve the resolution and precision that a quality bioprinter can consistently produce. For those reasons, we have adopted the use of bioprinters in our lab.
Cecillia: That’s amazing to hear. What is the greatest challenge you face with this technology?
Vascularization of bioprinted tissue is the greatest challenge most are facing in this industry. Tissues need to be vascularized in order to deliver nutrients to the cells, while also removing cytotoxic waste from the cells. Without proper vascularization which typically requires a cell to be within 200 µm of a nutrient source, large regions of necrosis will form. The inability to directly bioprint vascularized tissues drastically limits the size of functional tissues that can currently be created. Although, as the technologies, biomaterials, and workflow continue to progress, I am confident we can overcome these challenges.
Cecillia: Where do you see the bioprinting industry going?
Michael: Obviously functional organs is a long term goal, but another area that I’m excited for is patient specific disease models! Until recently researchers had 2D cell cultures, or animals models to study diseases. Both of these options frequently fail when it comes to accurately recapitulating the underlying disease mechanisms in the human body. Bioprinting can be used along with patient specific cells that express the disease phenotype to create more accurate disease models for research. Ultimately this should make it easier to create new treatments for these diseases, as well as encouraging research of rare diseases that would not otherwise be studied, due to a lack of a model system.
Cecillia: What is your advice for students who want to get into the field?
Michael: Figure out how you want to contribute, go for it, and never give up! Bioprinting is a diverse field that requires many interdisciplinary skillsets. Computer programmers, biochemists, radiologists, pharmacists, mechanical engineers, electrical engineers, stem cell biologists etc. are fields that I typically interact with on a weekly basis, so a big part of it is deciding how you want to contribute. From there I would recommend reaching out to individuals working in the field, explain to them how you would like to contribute, and ask if they know of any groups that could benefit from the skills you offer. I always find it useful to read recent academic articles published by the individual before you reach out.