Academia and enterprise to develop 3D printed pancreas for testing diabetes treatment – Med-Tech Innovation


In the European project ENLIGHT, Readily3D is working with academic centers and companies across Europe to develop a living model of the pancreas that can be used to better test diabetes drugs.

This model is formed with Readily3D’s 3D printers, which use tomographic printing to create structures in the centimeter range in less than 30 seconds. The prints themselves will be carried out at UMC Utrecht and EPFL, which, together with ETH Zurich and the University of Naples, pioneered the use of volume printing for biofabrication in 2019.

Damien Loterie, CEO of Readily3D: “We are delighted to be part of the ENLIGHT project and, together with our partners, to expand the limits of biofabrication.”

The ENLIGHT project has received a four-year grant from the Horizon 2020 fund of the European Innovation Council. The aim is to realize the first functioning tissue model within three years.

The project partners received a contribution of EUR 3.6 million from the European Innovation Fund Horizon 2020. Under the leadership of UMC Utrecht, the multidisciplinary consortium consists of Readily3D (Switzerland), the Ecole Polytechnique Fédérale de Lausanne and the ETH Zurich (Switzerland), University of Naples Federico II (Italy), AstraZeneca (Sweden), Rousselot (Belgium) and Fondazione Giannino Bassetti (Italy).

Readily3D will be included in the research program as the manufacturer of the bioprinters and will work on adapting its volumetric printing technology to the special needs of pancreatic structures.

In order to achieve their goal, the ENLIGHT researchers want to force two breakthroughs. The first is Readily3D’s newly developed bioprinter, which can quickly reproduce part of the human body, including living cells. While conventional 3D printers need several hours to print structures in the centimeter range, volumetric bioprinters can do this within a minute. This is important because the cell survival rate will decrease if it takes longer to print.

Paul Delrot, CTO of Readily3D: “With its fast construction speed, low light dose and sterile construction environment, tomographic bioprinters open up previously inaccessible applications in biofabrication.”

Once the bioprinter has created a living 3D model of human tissue, the second step is to add signaling molecules that use external stimulation to tell the cells how to behave. This is necessary in order to restore functionality at the level of the human organs.

Using tissue from a 3D bioprinter has a number of advantages. Artificial models could eliminate the need for animal testing and accelerate drug discovery for the pharmaceutical industry. This type of personalized medicine could also reduce the stress on individual patients, as they would not have to experiment with different drugs until one worked. If the model works, it can be used for other diseases such as cancer.

Professor Riccardo Levato, biofabrication researcher at UMC Utrecht and coordinator of ENLIGHT: “Practitioners can use cells from a patient to recreate the diseased tissue. A lab test can then be done to determine which drug candidates are having the greatest effect. This saves the patient a long search with unpleasant side effects, saves treatment costs and leads to the best available care for individual patients. ”

The next four years are aimed at creating a living model of the pancreas including hormonal functions. In the long term, the ENLIGHT projects aim to provide new instruments to remedy the shortage of donor organs for transplantation and regenerative medicine.