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Jun 27, 2023

Researchers from the University of Cambridge and King's College London have unveiled a portable extrusion-based bioprinting platform dubbed BioArm, which can pack down into a backpack — and which they are hoping could help the fight against cancer.

"BioArm, with its portability and ease of use, has the potential to make 3D bioprinting accessible to a wider research community," claims co-first author Yaqi Sheng of the team's creation. "This bioprinter has broken new ground: it can readily adapt to different working environments, while preserving relatively high accuracy. Its adaptability, customization flexibility and biological relevance has not yet been shown by existing low-cost and open-source bioprinters."

Based on a custom-designed print head and a hackable robot arm, the BioArm bioprinter is designed to pack down into a backpack for portability, weighs less than 11lbs, and costs under £1,000 (around $1,250) to build. When it's ready to use, it can be up and running in less than 15 minutes — and can 3D print tumoroids, using a cell-laden hydrogel "bio-ink" designed to mimic the make-up of mouse tumors, in around 90 seconds.

The printer itself is based on an RS Pro Hybrid Stepper Motor-based printhead controlled by an Arduino Mega 2560, mounted to a UFactory uArm Swift Pro driven by a Python program. A metal frame breaks down for storage and transport, while a 3D-printed stage holds the Petri dish to which the bio-ink material is printed.

To prove the printer's capabilities, the team has been testing it as a tool for testing simulated immunotherapy treatments for cancer and cancer-associated fibroblasts — using the body's own immune system to identify and fight the cancer cells. The idea of 3D-printing test tumors isn't new, as a desirable alternative to animal testing, but the team's printer has a range of advantages — from its low cost to its ease of portability.

"Bioprinted cancer models mimic the 3D heterogeneity of real tumors," explains Corrado Mazzaglia, first author of the paper detailing the work. "BioArm has the potential to screen a wide range of tumor therapies and could play a crucial role in the future development of cancer drug testing approaches."

The team's work has been published in the journal Biofabrication under open-access terms.