Experimental ‘tissue factory’ and bioprinting study programme in Utrecht

Scientists at Utrecht Science Park will soon be able to fabricate living tissue using special 3D printers. An amount of € 775,000 will be invested in the Utrecht Biofabrication Facility, where bioprinters will be installed to print pre-determined tissue structures layer by layer. Doctors can then use these structures to repair tissue damage in patients or for scientific research.

Dr. Jos Malda, Veterinary Medicine, Utrecht University
With this project, Utrecht will take a clear step forward in the rapidly changing world of 3D printing.
Dr. Jos Malda, Veterinary Medicine, Utrecht University

One of the most important clinical developments in regenerative medicine today is the printing of three-dimensional implants with living cells that can imitate the structure of natural tissue, such as cartilage or bone. The advantage of this process is that 3D implants can help patients recover from conditions such as cartilage damage much quicker than with the current treatments.  

3D implants for orthopaedic applications
The faculty’s representatives for this project are Prof. Wouter Dhert, Chairman of the Regenerative Medicine and Stem Cells research programme, and Dr. Jos Malda, both of whom are affiliated with Utrecht University’s Faculty of Veterinary Medicine. According to Dhert: “With this project, Utrecht will take a clear step forward in the rapidly changing world of 3D printing. This will make our faculty unique in the world, bringing together a wide variety of knowledge and infrastructure”. Malda adds: “The experimental tissue factory here in Utrecht will focus on topics such as orthopaedic applications, such as healing cartilage and bone. Instead of waiting until a joint is almost completely worn out, we can study how to simulate or stimulate the body’s natural healing process with a piece of bone or cartilage that has been produced layer by layer by a bioprinter”.  

Malda continues: “Printing 3D tissues with living cells is still a challenge, because many of the conditions under which plastics can be printed are not suitable for cells. By adjusting the printing temperature and the use of a special ‘bio ink’ developed in Utrecht, it is possible to print 3D structures using living cells. The fact that tissue structures must not only be three dimensional, but also perform a function, makes it more complex.” 

Cooperative effort within Utrecht Life Sciences
The Utrecht tissue factory will consist of two clean rooms where bioprinters and cell culture facilities will be installed. Utrecht University is investing in the project as part of the Regenerative Medicine and Stem Cells research programme, a leading European joint effort where the UMC Utrecht, the Faculty of Veterinary Medicine and the Faculty of Science all work together on innovations in health care for humans and animals. The partners are affiliated with Utrecht Life Sciences (ULS), an open innovation network in which academic partners, knowledge institutions, governments and companies work intensively together in the fields of education, research and innovation. When the tissue factory is complete in 2014, it will be made available for other universities, knowledge institutions and companies that wish to conduct scientific research. For more information, visit the Utrecht Biofabrication Facility page on the ULS website.  

Life Sciences is also one of Utrecht University’s strategic research themes. 

International Biofabrication Master’s study programme
Considering the expected increase in demand for trained biomedical engineers in the field of biofabrication, Utrecht and three other international knowledge institutions have taken the initiative to develop the unique study programme BIOFAB (Biofabrication Training for Future Manufacturing), which will start n 2014 and combine with the current Master’s programme in Regenerative Medicine & Technology. For the development of this programme, a consortium consisting of UMC Utrecht, Universität Würzburg (Germany), Queensland University of Technology and the University of Wollongong (both in Australia) has received subsidies totalling € 650,000 from European and Australian governments. This means that Utrecht University and its international partners will soon be the first in the world to offer a specific study programme for this new field of study. 

Watch a short video in which Dr. Wouter Dhert explains his research.

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