We’ve all experienced it… that moment when time stood still, our lives brought to a halt by a medical emergency, be it our own, or that of someone we love. That feeling of apprehension sweeps over you and reminds you that life sometimes has her own plans. But, does it have to be that way? Must we be at the mercy of our bodies and its many limitations? Some think not, and they’ve done something spectacular to prove it… it’s called bioprinting, and it could change how we view our own frailty and treat our sicknesses and injuries forever.
Sounds exciting, if not a little scary. But… aren’t we always scared of the unknown? So, let’s douse that fear with the waters of knowledge, explore this modern “miracle”, and find out what it is and how it will change our lives. Simply put, bioprinting is exactly what it sounds like. We take organic material (what’s called biomaterial, which is living cells or tissue), feed it into a special printer that works with biomaterial (instead of plastic or metal), and voila… we print out the desired body part.
If you’re anything like us, your mind is already bursting with the possible applications… and, just maybe, this innovation has come at exactly the right time. You’ve no doubt been a party to the slew of troubling news about supply chains, shortages in hospitals, and other issues plaguing our healthcare system still trying to recover from the pandemic. If the medical community get this right, those issues could be mitigated to some degree. This could shift our entire method of care for huge segments of the human population.
What It Does
The first order of business with bioprinting is getting an exact match for the patient’s cells. This is important because host bodies often reject implants… the body sees the implant as foreign and is designed to use the immune system to kill it (this is what’s happening when we “fight off” an infection). To do this, the doctor harvests the essential cells needed directly from the patient. If they need to create a pancreas, they will harvest pancreas cells. To grow a bicep, they will harvest bicep muscles… you get the picture.
Every biological tissue has distinct cell types, and those are where the harvest must take place for a match. Once extracted, the cells are taken and cultivated in a lab to crate the ‘bio-ink’ that the special printer will use. Then, in order to get the “specs” for what needs to be printed, the doctor will feed computer designs and models based off scans of the patient’s cells into the program. This tells the printer the dimensions needed, such as size and shape.
Finally, once the “print” button is pressed, printer heads precisely deposit cells where they are required, and the printing begins. Over the course of hours, the printer works its magic, creating thin layer upon thin layer of skin cells until a 3D object begins to take shape… you can kind of think of it like a layered cake. With each new layer, it eventually takes shape into a final product. Only here, we’re not layering cake, we’re layering cells to create a body part. There’s already speculation in the space that, in the future, there will be no need for organ donations whatsoever.
With the rapid pace of innovation in this space, it’s no surprise that the market is growing quickly. The 3D bioprinting market sits at about $1.3 billion and is expected to reach $3.3 billion by 2027. As we see the technology used more and more in the pharmaceutical, cosmetology, and healthcare industries… coupled with rising public and private funding, we expect this space to continue its healthy upward trajectory.
Deals To Watch
As this is a new space, the companies we’re watching are young yet, but their potential is what we care about, and they have it. Today, we’ll be looking at BIOLIFE4D and Nuclera. Illinois-based BIOLIFE4D is the little engine that could… a small company with a big heart, or rather… big plans for hearts. This early-stage medical device company is developing synthetic heart organs for human transplant use. Put another way, they aim to print bioidentical hearts for transplant patients and are seeking to raise $17 million through an IPO in the U.S.
The aim is lofty, and they’ll be using the funds to continue driving R&D efforts. If BIOLIFE4D succeeds in its artificial heart bioprinting plans, it’ll put them on the map. They still have hurdles to tackle… as they are still in the pre-clinical R&D stage and must now scale the gauntlet of the FDA’s full clinical trial process. But they know the space is theirs for the taking if they have the gumption. We’ll be keeping our ears to the ground for share prices and a specific IPO date.
Nuclera was founded in 2013 by three scientists at the University of Cambridge with the dream of developing a bioprinter that helps scientists identify proteins in plant, mammal, and bacterial cells. Why is this important? Because this is the process through which pharmaceuticals are developed. Usually, identifying these proteins takes months or even years, but Nuclera has developed technology that makes this process much, much faster… within 24 hours. Not only that, but it can be done at a desk, greatly reducing the complexity of the process.
The bioprinter Nuclera has designed produces the proteins required for drug discovery research… and we all know how big of a deal drug development is right now with disease exploding across the globe. Thus far, they have been successful in raising the funds needed to continue their work, including $15.5 million in recent Series B funding… so, while they won’t IPO tomorrow, it’s on the way. Fast. We expect to see their research and development efforts produce fruits that could thrust the drug development process into warp speed.
Could it be that, in a few years, car wrecks, skin cancers, and faulty hearts will be met with bioprinted limbs, skin for skin grafts, and bioidentical, 3D printed hearts? Maybe… it’s certainly looking that way. Even if just the two companies we’ve looked at today succeed, the medical landscape will look vastly different than it does today. Will either of these companies make the cut and end up on my Buy List? Join us next week, we’ll be rolling out more information on the future of mankind and bringing you more about the exciting companies on our radar.