Exploring NBIL’s Vision: 3D Printing the Future of Medicine, One Cell at a Time – An Interview


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The 3D printing firm based in Bangalore, Next Big Innovation Labs (NBIL), with eight years of experience in bioprinting, is at the forefront of technological applications, notably in the field of regenerative medicine. The firm promotes tailored bioprinting solutions to efficiently respond to global health issues.

We at 3D Printing Industry had a conversation with Piyush Padmanabhan, the CEO, Co-Founder, and Director of NBIL, to explore in detail the journey and vision of the company in the area of bioprinting.

“The increasing gap in the demand and supply of organs for transplantation is an issue that regenerative tissue engineering is eager to address. Despite many technologies making an appearance to offer solutions to the global organ scarcity crisis, the advancements made in the sector of bioprinting over the past decade have been unmatched. NBIL advocates for tailored bioprinting as the solution to various health challenges. The Trivima bioprinters, designed specifically for wound healing, personalized medications, cancer studies, and patient-specific bone implants, offer an innovative platform for creative solutions and are backed by persistent technology and expertise in bioprinting,” asserted Padmanabhan.

Trivima bioprinter series: From evolution to collaborative ecosystem

Padmanabhan explains that the Trivima bioprinters originated to establish an efficient engineering ecosystem at NBIL. Developed in July 2017, the first Trivima bioprinter, underwent technology validation and was initially utilized for internal projects. Following successful validations, the technology found application at Merck KGaA in Darmstadt, Germany, marking the genesis of a focus on customized engineering, requiring precise adjustments to extrusion, movement, and temperature control systems to meet specific research needs.

In response to global bans on animal testing, Indian researchers turned to customized bioprinting solutions for diverse tissue models. Post-pandemic, this demand expanded to include new-age biomaterials, personalized therapies, and clinical applications of bioprinted tissues. This surge inspired the development of three Trivima bioprinter variants. Trivima Basic enables researchers and clinicians to initiate their bioprinting journey, from biomaterial development to the printing of bioceramic constructs.

Trivima Advanced extends the capabilities of bioprinting, offering researchers and clinicians a broader range of applications. Addressing a crucial need for precise scaffold formation and controlled cell layering, Trivima Pro Bioprinter represents a significant milestone. With its advanced features, including controlled droplet printing (down to 0.5 nL) and pellet-based extrusion, users can create complex scaffolds. These three variants cater to users with diverse needs, from basic applications to those requiring a deeper exploration of the multifaceted world of bioprinting.

Trivima Pro bioprinter. Photo via NBIL.

“We’re looking to provide a holistic support ecosystem to every user of Trivima Bioprinters. Right from technical support to collaborations. For a niche ecosystem, such as bioprinting, to thrive and find its calling in clinical applications, collaborations are going to be a key driver. To achieve this, enabling the ecosystem and supporting interesting projects that have a true outcome for the community is something we strive to do. Building a strong collaborative ecosystem is ingrained in our DNA and in our efforts to do so, we have partnered with some of the pioneers in the domain,” explained Padmanabhan.

Strategic partnerships with top Indian Institutes

Trivima bioprinters are now being used by some of the top institutes in India such as Central Leather Research Institute (CLRI), Manipal University (Manipal),  AIIMS (New Delhi), and IIT Hyderabad. The next step in this journey is the collaboration between NBIL and HiMedia, which is focused on building a strong holistic solution for bioprinting applications such as tissue engineering, cancer biology, personalized medicine, and microfluidics, according to Padmanabhan.

“Our exploration ranges from the technology employed in our Trivima Bioprinters to the incorporation of AI/ML algorithms within our bioprinters to building crucial collaborations to amplify the capabilities of the bioprinting domain. Our objective is to construct a plethora of technologies that can address a broad spectrum of challenges in the pharmaceutical, cosmetic, and clinical fields. Here are some of the technologies and partnerships that we have built towards realizing our goals,” the CEO further stated.

In November 2018, NBIL was selected into Merck KGaA’s accelerator program, netting a unique opportunity to interact with diverse agents in the pharmaceutical industry. An key initiative involved the construction of a multi-well bioprinting system for 96-well and 384-well plates, drastically diminishing print time from 16 to less than 4 minutes. This advancement did not only boost cell survival rate in biomaterials but also assisted in the establishment of co-culture models vital for pharmaceutical research.

NBIL’s paramount focus on reducing animal testing also extends to cosmetics, working hand in hand with industry and non-profit entities. A prime project involved the bioprinting of human epidermis, providing a substitute for animal testing. Special biomaterials were devised, enabling the printing of skin cells to imitate the top two layers of human skin. The technologies advanced during this project are now essential parts of Trivima bioprinters, made available to customers searching alternatives to traditional animal tests for biomaterials and skin models, according to the CEO.

“Technology, whether in the shape of engineering or software, is the main force when it comes to answers for complex problems. Another essential element here is the combination of various stakeholders to ensure that the technology is properly implemented,” stated Padmanabhan. “NBIL proactively participates in three main areas: developing tailored bioprinting solutions, teaming up with Microsoft to incorporate AI/ML solutions for improved Trivima Bioprinter performances, and striving for a clinically applicable solution for operation theaters. Attaining regulatory approvals for this medical device is a current focus. Key collaborations with AIIMS, New Delhi, and IIT, Hyderabad, emphasize our dedication to clinically translatable bioprinting technology.”

As reported by Padmanabhan, innovative achievements in bioprinting have been observed from Dr. Falguni Pati’s squad at IIT Hyderabad, specifically with their success on the bioprinted cornea project. They are charged with excitement over their work on advanced biomaterials, intricate tissue models, and clinical applications. Notably, Trivima Bioprinters have found a place in Dr. Pati’s laboratory, kickstarting a beneficial collaboration. Over in AIIMS, New Delhi, Dr. Sujata Mohanty’s unit in the Stem Cell Facility pursues modern biomaterials and clinical solutions thus propelling the field of bioprinting and regenerative medicine, benefitting a wide range of society.

Organ regeneration: the advancements and challenges in bioprinting

Per Padmanabhan, the realm of bioprinting applications is vast, creating promising prospects to tackle organ shortages and trim down risks of rejection in organ transplants. Yet, the objective of creating fully functional bioprinted organs still poses a significant challenge. In the area of tissue engineering, bioprinting is responsible for generating scaffolds that imitate the natural structure of the bone tissue. These scaffoldings aid the growth of osteoblast and bone-forming cells, thus enabling the repair of damaged or lost bone. Albeit the enormous potential, bioprinting keeps on evolving with continuous exploration across different sectors of medicine and tissue regeneration.

Bioprinting plays a vital role in the construction of skin structures for grafting, of great benefit to burn victims and those with severe skin damage. It models natural skin through the incorporation of keratinocyte, fibroblast layers, amongst others. In the area of cartilage regeneration, bioprinting assists in forming scaffolds through the printed layers of bioinks, chondrocytes, and supportive biomaterials, thus reflecting the complex structure of cartilage tissue.

The path towards regulatory approval still has a significant journey ahead. The classification of bioprinted items underneath which regulation wave they’ll fall is yet to be determined! Regardless of how bioprinters are classified, the issue lies in that bioprinted structures typically manifest as combination items. Such products often involve cells, biomaterial scaffolds, growth factors and as a result, these bioprinted items may extend across numerous product categories, each potentially subject to distinct regulatory pathways,” Padmanabhan has expressed.

Bioprinting also spans to crafting corneal constructs needed for transplants and the treatment of corneal illnesses. Current studies are delving into the field of bioprinting in the creation of cardiac tissue constructs, functional heart patches for repairing post-myocardial infarctions being one such application. This budding field depicts the dawn of potential developments in bioprinting implementations on the upswing.

Aiming to Encourage Global Collaboration for Advancements in Clinical Biofabrication

NBIL’s upcoming objectives concentrate on the creation of a global biofabrication ecosystem that encourages synergistic work among researchers, clinicians, regulatory bodies, government agencies, and private corporations. The intent is to progress clinical applications by employing a group strategy and access to innovative technologies. The executive believes that engaging conversation among participants is necessary to actualize the medical applications of biofabrication.

In addition to excelling in personalized bioprinting technology, NBIL is now channeling its efforts towards collaboration with every stakeholder to actualize 3D bioprinted organs. Padmanabhan concluded by outlining the challenges they expect such as stringent regulatory guidelines for bioprinted organs, maintaining a conducive environment for stakeholders to share their thoughts openly and effectively, refining the technology to print smaller capillaries, heterogeneous cell culture, and the adaption of organs prior to their transplantation into a patient.

To get more detailed information, visit the 3D Printing Industry’s page about Formnext 2023.

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