3D bioprinting in healthcare: opportunities and challenges with Deepak Kalaskar

In this interview, we spoke to Deepak Kalaskar, Associate Professor of Bioengineering at University College London (UK) about his views on the future of bioprinting technologies in medicine.

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I am an innovator who is passionate about translation of technology for the benefit of patients. Following my undergraduate degree in Chemical Technology, I worked in industry (BASF Coatings; Maharashtra, India) as a Research and Development Scientist focusing on high performance coatings. Due to my keen interest in biological coatings, I completed my PhD in biomaterials science from the University of Manchester (UK). 

Following my PhD, I worked at various institutions in the UK and Belgium on the development of nanomaterials, stem cell therapies and medical devices. At present, as Professor Associate Bioengineering at University College London (UK), my research focuses on the design and development of medical devices and implants for patients. We use a range of techniques, including biomaterials synthesis, 3D printing, bioprinting, 3D scanning and various medical image optimization and reconstruction processes to realize this objective. I am also Chair and Co-director of a postgraduate course in plastic and reconstructive surgery, which we run in collaboration with the Royal Free Hospital (London, UK) to educate and train future surgeons and scientists in research innovations and their translation. 

Could you tell us about any current (or recent) projects?

We are closely associated with four London (UK) hospitals. Our labs are based in the Royal Free Hospital (RFH) and Royal National Orthopaedic Hospital (RNOH; London, UK). This provides us a unique opportunity to work and solve real life challenges in collaboration with clinical teams. We work on the design and development of various medical devices, implants and futuristic technologies such as bioprinted tissues. We use range of technologies such as 3D printing, scanning, imaging, novel materials development and testing. 

Some of the applications we are developing include 3D printing of bespoke spinal implants for lower back pain (intervertebral disc degeneration), in collaboration with an industrial partner and RNOH, which aims to reduce the rate of re-operation for many patients. 

We are also working on developing 3D-printed bespoke screw guides for scoliosis patients, which aim to reduce radiation exposure in children and improve surgical accuracy and clinical safety. This work is supported by Orthopedic Research UK. 

We have developed a workflow for 3D scanning and printing bespoke neck supports for patients with Motor Neuron Disease at RNOH. 3D-printed bespoke neck supports are currently used by patients and have significantly improved their quality of life. 

In the bioprinting area, we are working with the plastic surgery unit at RFH to develop a workflow for 3D breast reconstruction using integrated scanning and printing technology for cancer patients. We are working with industry partners to develop scalable production of 3D-bioprinted osteochondral tissue for arthritis drug screening as well as 3D-printed nerve grafts and skin for burns patients. 

We are also further collaborating with a few international organizations to develop 3D-printed tissues for cornea repair. We recently developed new bioink materials for vascularized tissue printing which is biocompatible, cheaper and easy to use compared to other commercial materials. 

We hope to find a solution for the printing of vascularized tissue as that remains the ‘Holy Grail’ of bioprinting. You can find more information about our work via: www.bioprintingresearchplatform.org

How are 3D printing and bioprinting technologies involved with your work?

We work on developing various materials and process which support 3D printing/3D bioprinting processes and improve their efficiency. We work with hospitals (clinicians, radiologist and patients) so technology is suitable for clinical applications, supported and easily adopted by clinical teams. 

What challenges facing healthcare do 3D printing and bioprinting technologies help to overcome?

3D printing and bioprinting technologies provide bespoke and customized solutions for patients where no other solutions are currently available. 

There are five main areas where this technology can help:

  1. 3D-printed bespoke medical devices;
  2. 3D-printed bespoke medical implants;
  3. disease models for drug screening for developing bespoke therapies;
  4. pharmaceutical R&D, reducing animal testing and improving efficiency of drug discovery and development for human applications;
  5. pre-surgical planning for training, education and communication with fellow clinical team and patients. 

How do you envision bioprinting technologies translating into medical practice?

Working in close ordination with hospitals (clinicians and patients) as well as with industry partners, we are developing workflows for bioprinting’s implementation and translation into medical practice. Without their combined support and adoption, we cannot progress. Their involvement is key for innovative technologies like these to translate into medical practice. 

What’s next with your research? What should we be looking out for?  

3D-printed bone and vascularized tissues are on our priority list. We are also working on breast reconstruction for patients with cancer, as well as developing composite skin for patients suffering burns and other related conditions. 

Where do you see bioprinting in the medical field in 5–10 years’ time?

Bioprinted tissues will soon be available for drug testing, improving efficiency of drug discovery.

Simple tissues such as bone, cartilage, tendon and skin will become available for translational applications within 10 years. 

Do you have any final comments about medical 3D printing and bioprinting in healthcare you would like to share?

3D printing in healthcare is in its infancy. It has long way to go before the full potential of the technology is completely realized. There are various millstones we need to meet on the way in terms of the development of novel materials compatible for 3D printing and bioprinting processes, multidimensional printing techniques for complex assembly of cellular structures and novel, noninvasive 3D imaging methods also need to evolve for quality control purposes. Regulation and standardization for bioprinting technologies are still not set and this requires a collaborative approach from various stakeholders including patients, hospitals, government bodies, regulators, industry and inventors. 

The opinions expressed in this feature are those of the interviewee/author and do not necessarily reflect the views of 3DMedNet or Future Science Group.

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