Could Bioprinting Speed Drug Development?

Researchers are looking to the latest technological advancements to help speed the process of bringing new pharmaceuticals to market. The whole drug development process requires up to fourteen years and over $2 billion in investment, so any advantage can lead to considerable savings. Bioprinting is one area of biotech that has the potential to improve this situation.

Bioprinting is a cutting-edge technology that uses 3D printers and biomaterials to create living tissues and organs for medical applications. By building up cells and biomaterials layer upon layer, it is possible to construct functioning tissues and organs. This has clear promise in the area of organ transplantation, but the possibility of full organ transplants remains a few decades away.

In the meantime, a potential game-changer lies in applying bioprinting to drug testing. Traditionally, drugs are tested on two-dimensional cell cultures or animals before human trials. But those processes are expensive and lengthy, and they also fail to predict all possible human responses accurately. Here, bioprinting steps in to revolutionise the process.


By leveraging bioprinting, scientists can design 3D tissues that mimic specific human organs or diseases. “Organ-on-a-chip (OOC) models, organoids or specific disease tissues engineered from human cells offer a more human-relevant model for detecting a drug’s effectiveness or side effects before it advances to human trials,” says Vidmantas Šakalys, Chief Executive Officer of Vital3D Technologies, a biotech company that specializes in 3D bioprinting solution.

“Instead of a broad-brush, one-size-fits-all approach, bioprinting will make it possible to observe how specific drugs interact with different human body tissues, bringing an unprecedented level of accuracy and speed to drug testing.”

There are several tangible benefits to this approach. First, bioprinting could significantly reduce the time and cost associated with drug development, meaning companies could know a drug’s effect sooner, minimizing expensive failed trials. Second, this technology has the potential to decrease reliance on animal testing, marking a significant shift toward more human and effective approaches in biomedical sciences.


Still, there are certain challenges left to face before bioprinting can be adopted for mainstream drug testing. “The human body is infinitely complex in its chemical and biophysical structures, making it highly difficult to create testing models that closely resemble the necessary environment,” says Šakalys. “The main limitation is the fact that currently there are no standardised tissue sourcing or processing techniques, and no standardised cell medium formulations or well-defined tissue engineering matrices.”

But biotech firms are making progress nonetheless, Šakalys says. “Currently, the organ-on-a-chip development field is experiencing exponential growth, which suggests a promising future for actively adapting this technology in research. As technological innovations continue to enhance the reproducibility, complexity, and scalability of organ-on-a-chip models, researchers can anticipate an increasingly refined toolkit for understanding human physiology and pathology.”

See also: Focused Ultrasound and the Treatment of Essential Tremor

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