Rapid 3D bioprinting for precision tissue engineering: an interview with Dr Shaochen Chen

Written by RegMedNet

In this interview, Dr Shaochen Chen, Professor and Vice Chair in the NanoEngineering Department and Professor Affiliate in the Bioengineering Department at the University of California, San Diego (CA, USA), discusses the role of biomaterials and bioprinting in tissue engineering and regenerative medicine.

In this interview, Dr Shaochen Chen, Professor and Vice
Chair in the NanoEngineering Department and Professor Affiliate in the
Bioengineering Department at the University of California, San Diego (CA,
USA), discusses his career to date, insights into biomaterials for tissue
engineering, and the road ahead.

Dr Shaochen Chen
Dr Shaochen Chen is a Professor and Vice Chair in the NanoEngineering Department and Professor Affiliate in the Bioengineering Department at the University of California, San Diego (UCSD). He is a founding co-director of the Biomaterials and Tissue Engineering Center at UCSD. Before joining UCSD, Dr Chen had been a Professor and a Pearlie D. Henderson Centennial Endowed Faculty Fellow in Engineering at the University of Texas at Austin from 2001 to 2010. Between 2008 and 2010, he served as the Program Director for the Nanomanufacturing Program of the National Science Foundation (NSF). Dr Chen’s primary research interests include: biomaterials and 3D bioprinting, stem cell and regenerative medicine, tissue engineering, laser and nanomanufacturing. He has published over 110 papers in top journals and 12 book/book chapters. Among his numerous awards, Dr Chen received the NSF CAREER award, ONR Young Investigator award, and NIH Edward Nagy New Investigator Award. He is a Fellow of AAAS, AIMBE, ASME, SPIE and ISNM.

Can you please tell us a little about your career to date and how you came to work in the field of tissue engineering?

I was trained in the field of laser optics for materials processing at the University of California at Berkeley. My effort was focused on semiconductor materials. When I started my own academic career first at Iowa State University and later the University of Texas at Austin, I realized that laser optics could be a powerful tool for manufacturing, especially for personalized medical implants. Because my strong interest in engineering for medicine since childhood. I started to build a laser stereolithography system and projection printing system in 2002 to create biological scaffolds for tissue regeneration. I was attracted to join the University of California, San Diego (UCSD) in 2010 because of its strong life sciences programs and the biotech industry in the San Diego area. This move allows me to focus on 3D bioprinting and biomaterials research for tissue engineering and regenerative medicine.

The mission of the Biomaterials and Tissue Engineering Center (BMTEC) is to synergize the expertise in biomaterials, bioprinting, cell and developmental biology, and medical research in the San Diego community and to translate it for clinical applications. How do you bring this diverse group of scientists together?

functional human tissues and organs requires a multi-disciplinary approach
involving biomaterials, biofabrication, molecular biology, and medicine. This
is the main reason we established this Biomaterials and Tissue Engineering
Center (BMTEC) in the Institute of Engineering in Medicine. UCSD is a very
dynamic and collaborative institution. This allows us to pull together a group
of researchers from the School of Medicine, School of Engineering, and the
Biology division to tackle the multifaced challenges in tissue engineering and
regenerative medicine.

What are the main projects you are currently working on?

We continue to develop next generation 3D bioprinting methods for higher precision, throughput, and scalability for industrial scale biomanufacturing. We also explore unique applications of the 3D bioprinting techniques for significant medical and biological problems. Recently, we have 3D-printed a human liver tissue model for early drug screening (PNAS 2016). We are also 3D-printing other types of tissue models such as cardiac and nerve tissues for both fundamental research as well as translational uses.

When did you realise that 3D bioprinting was something that could have a major impact on the field of regenerative medicine?

That was in 2002 when I was developing laser stereolithography and projection 3D printing methods. The unique feature of 3D printing is its capability of creating customer-fit products. In medicine, each patient’s need is different. That is why I have focused my research on 3D bioprinting and biomaterials.

What, if any, are the different considerations when developing or using biomaterials for 3D printing compared with more traditional tissue engineering approaches?

In my 3D printing approaches, the biomaterials need to be photo-sensible, i.e. printable with light (UV or visible). We also like the materials that have tunable materials properties such as stiffness so that they can work for different organ or tissues.

What are the main materials you use, for example natural or synthetic, and for what tissues/applications?

We use both natural and synthetic materials as long as they are light-printable. We methacrylate these materials so that they can be photo-crosslinked for 3D printing. These materials include poly(ethylene glycol) diacrylate(PEGDA), gelatin methacrylate (GelMA), hyaluronic acid (HA), and decellularized materials for a variety of soft tissues such as heart, liver, nerve, cancer, and brain.

Aside from 3D printing, what have been the biggest technological advances in terms for biofabrication techniques during your career?

That will be the functional scaffolds with controlled mechanical, chemical, physical, and biological properties. For example, we have created scaffolds with a negative Poisson’s ratio, where this scaffold expands when stretched. We have also created scaffolds embedded with various nanoparticles with designer functions such as self-propelled micro-fish for sensing, detoxification, drug delivery, and possible nano-surgery. We have also created liver-mimic hydrogel nanocomposite for toxin removal.

Do you think we will be able to generate lab-grown organs, and if so, when?

Yes, we will. But it will take many years to grow complex, functional organs.

What is the biggest challenge the tissue engineering/regenerative medicine field is facing in terms is getting biomaterial-based therapies to the clinic?

Standardized materials and processes for FDA approval.

Looking forward, how close functional 3D living tissues to reaching the clinic, and what will help bring this about faster?

There have been successful stories of these 3D living tissues for clinic. More research funding and close collaboration among bioengineers and medical doctors will speed up the process.

Finally, what was the best advice you received during your career, and what is your proudest career achievement to date?

Be open-minded, be collaborative, and patient needs-focused. My proudest achievement is the rapid 3D bioprinters and functional scaffolds, and many PhD, MS, and BS students who were trained through our research projects.

Financial & competing interests disclosure

Funding support from NSF, ONR, and NIH.

Further reading

  • Lu Y, Mapili G, Suhali G, Chen SC, Roy K. A Digital Micro-mirror Device-based System for the Microfabrication of Complex, Spatially Patterned Tissue Engineering Scaffolds. J. Biomed. Mater. Res. A 77A(2), 396—405 (2006).
  • Zhang AP, Qu X, Soman P, Hribar KC, Lee JW, Chen SC, He S. Rapid Fabrication of Complex 3D Extracellular Microenvironments by Dynamic Optical Projection Stereolithography. Adv. Mater. 24(31), 4266—4270 (2012).
  • Gou M, Qu X, Zhu W et al. Bio-inspired Detoxification using 3D-printed Hydrogel Nanocomposites. Nat. Commun. 5, 3774 (2014).
  • Zhu W, Li J, Leong Y et al. 3D Printed Artificial Micro-Fish. Adv. Mater. 27, 4411—4417 (2015).
  • Ma X, Qu X, Zhu W et al. A Deterministically Patterned Biomimetic Human iPSC-derived Hepatic Model via Rapid 3D Bioprinting. PNAS 113(8), 2206—2211 (2016).