After spending a long weekend in Austin, Texas, Danny Cabrera, Chief Executive Officer of BioBots, has a lot to be proud of. His company was voted most innovative company at Austin’s SXSW Interactive, a conference that originally started as a music festival and added a technology focus over the past several years, highlighting the innovations being made both in the Texas biotech scene as well as throughout the world in a broad spectrum of industries and disciplines. BioBots was one of only 50 start-up companies invited to the competition.
“The experience was really great,” said Cabrera, in an exclusive interview with BioNews Texas. “I wasn’t expecting to meet so many great people. Since it is a conference, I expected to go to lots of talks, but there was an incredible amount of networking. You could be standing in line for a concert next to someone you’ve been wanting to meet for a while and just happen to bump into them. I am definitely going back.”
BioBots is the creation of Cabrera and Ricardo Solorzano, Chief Technology Officer. Together, Cabrera and Solorzano joined a startup accelerator in Philadelphia as undergraduates at the University of Pennsylvania. “We started out in Ricardo’s dorm room on two Ikea desks,” recalled Cabrera. “Ricardo would design parts on his computer and 3D-print them at a machine shop downtown. We have come a long way together, out of community college, through the Ivy League, selling 3D bioprinters to the best researchers across the world, and building an amazing company.”
After the team finished testing their 3D bioprinter, they began pushing out their product since the middle of January 2015. Already, BioBots’ 3D printers have been installed in laboratories in Europe, Australia, Asia, and North America. Their global reach was made possible by attending conferences such as SXSW. Last December, at Tissue Engineering and Regenerative Medicine International Society-Americas, BioBots caught the attention of a few research groups in Massachusetts, Canada, and Sweden.
“People all over the place are looking for bioprinters,” said Cabrera. BioBots’ 3D printer is unique from other 3D printers because it uses special hydrogel-based bioinks cured by UV light in a small bioprinter. “Up until now, 3D bioprinters have been huge, extraordinarily expensive, and difficult to use, similar to how computers were in their early days — large, expensive mainframes that took up entire rooms and were operated by punch cards and teams of technicians,” said Cabrera. BioBots’ 3D bioprinter is only $5,000, which is orders of magnitude less than current 3D bioprinters.
The team’s goal is to enable laboratories to 3D-print tissues to use as platforms for drug testing and eventually print functional tissues to grow replacement organs for patients on the organ waiting list. “What can we do today?” said Cabrera, “Print 3D tissues for testing new compounds and biologics, replacing the need for animal testing.”
BioBots is part of a growing technological movement in 3D printing that is utilizing the technology to advance the life sciences. At UT Dallas, researchers are collaborating with scientists at the University of Tokyo in developing implantable adaptive electronics by exhibiting a soft and malleable 3D device, capable of adjusting to the body’s shape and responding to its temperature. At the Houston Methodist Research Institute, a group of scientists have discovered a method for 3D printing cells with very minimal damage to the cells used, optimizing the creation of human tissue. And in the private sector, Austin, Texas biotech startup TeVido BioDevices LLC is working on development of a 3D printing process that could fabricate breast tissue to be used in breast reconstruction after a lumpectomy using a women’s own fat cells. In this way, BioBots is helping to lead the way in a next-generation approach to the life sciences.
Since BioBots’ 3D bioprinter just recently made its debut, no publications have used the technology. It is just a matter of time before the first 3D-printed working tissues and eventually organs are produced by BioBots’ 3D bioprinter. “It’s not about the technology not being there,” said Cabrera. “It’s about researchers working on ways to use it. Maybe in the next ten or fifteen years we will see the first functional 3D printed tissues from our 3D bioprinter. Several years from now, patients with organ failures are going to be able to receive custom replacement organs built by BioBot 3D bioprinters and constructed out of their own cells.”