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3D bioprinter advances cancer research

Photo Credit: UNSW

A 3D printer that can print replicas of different types of cancers and surrounding cells has recently won one of Australia’s major design awards.

As reported, the 3D bioprinter that can print replicas of tumours has won the prestigious 2019 Good Design Award of the Year.

The printer was co-designed by two leading University of New South Wales (UNSW) medical and science academics with a biomedical company.

Benefits of the 3D bioprinter

The 3D printer gives biomedical researchers and tissue engineers a fast way to create 3D cell structures, proteins and tumour models.

As explained, cancer research is dominated, and in many ways limited, by two-dimensional in vitro cell culture techniques.

However, three-dimensional printing of cell cultures is much more realistic, revealing important features such as the resistance of cells and tumours to treatment.

The technology allows cancer researchers to rapidly produce 3D cultures and build more complex in vitro cancer models than ever before.

This 3D bioprinter is different from others as the types of cells and the environment they grow in can be controlled precisely. It, therefore, allows the creation of 3D cell models and print artificial tumours.


Funding for the printer was secured in 2013 through an ARC linkage grant and the first models were built in 2016.

The printer went through a thorough a rigorous design and testing period from both the engineering and cell biology perspective.

The type of ink developed for the printer means cell biologists, for the first time, have the capability to precisely deposit multiple cell types in a single 3D cell culture.

Additionally, they will be able to control the proteins that bind cells together. This is critical because it allows cancer researchers to better understand the variables in cancer formation.

The printer is revolutionary in its ability to control the volatile cancer environment being worked on and reproduce different types of cancers.


It provides enormous opportunities to model real cancer cells. Different tumours survive in different microenvironments.

A person does not merely have a tumour, but many other cells, such as immune cells and accessory cells living around that tumour, which influence that environment and response to therapy.

One of the main applications at this stage will be for the printer to recreate and mimic solid tumours as well as have the potential to even recreate blood cell cancers such as leukemia.

The machine is capable of modelling cancer disease and therapeutic responses to test new drugs. This will allow analysis of the ways drugs are impacting the survival of the tumour and potentially feed that back to the clinicians.

It even allows the testing of drugs that they may not have thought of giving. This will reduce the possibility of exposing the patients to undue toxicity.

The core technology is also being used to explore the longer-term potential to impact areas like the treatment of burns and wounds through clinical bedside-bioprinting.

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