Turning a dream into a reality – the birth of 3D bioprinting
Written by: Todd Goldstein
You might be thinking, what in the world is bioprinting and why would a team spend years developing it? Well, 3D bioprinting is the use of 3D printing technology with materials that incorporate viable living cells. The end product produced is tissue for reconstructive surgery. This type of technology can transform the way medicine is practiced. Just think about a world where organ donors are no longer needed – if you need a transplant of some sort, it can be printed on demand from your own cells while you wait. But before I get ahead of myself, let’s start at the beginning…
My journey within Northwell Health started off 30 years ago when I was born at Long Island Jewish Medical Center. After a brief 20+ year hiatus, I returned in a very stereotypical way – I was a student who needed a side job with lots of shifts and flexible hours. After some investigation I applied to work per diem as a patient transporter at North Shore University Hospital, where I worked at night while I was completing my master’s degree. It was a perfect fit for me; I was able to converse with patients as I wheeled them around the hospital for their various tests and discharges.
As I was completing my degree, I applied and was accepted to the PhD program at the Hofstra Northwell School of Medicine. I wasn’t sure what I specifically wanted to work on, but I knew I had a knack for technology and a new found appreciation for Orthopedics & Radiology. I worked 4 years at the Feinstein Institute for Medical Research completing my degree in the Laboratory of Orthopedics Research under Dr. Daniel Grande PhD. We spent countless hours working on 3D bioprinting of cartilage, bone, and tracheal tissue. The environment I “stumbled into” was one of collaboration, innovation, and patience. It was challenging, but very rewarding. The lab provided an environment filled with students, residents, fellows, physicians, and research scientists all working to further medical knowledge and create new treatments for patients in need. Anyone in the lab was able to “grab the bull by the horns” so to speak, and take on a project they deemed interesting. You took ownership and were able to see it through to the end.
One day, in walked two chief surgeons with the idea of tissue engineering lab grown tracheas. Dr. Lee Smith MD and Dr. David Zeltsman MD were interested in our capabilities within the lab and if we were willing to work with them on a non-orthopedic project. Dr. Grande said “Todd if you want to spear head this project, go right ahead, just let me know what you need.” Over the next two years we worked to build up a protocol to 3D bioprint tracheal replacements in the lab. It was our hope of one day transplanting a replacement into a patient – to restore their breathing would become a reality.
Once I had the support I needed, we began right away. While we are not at a point to transplant lab grown organs, we are well on our way. To kick off this type of project we started to build our own 3D printer that could create our tissue since the commercially available printer options were extremely expensive. We took a desktop 3D printer, stripped it down to its guts, then using design software created new printer heads that could accept living cells within a jello like material. Many early mornings and late nights watching the 3D printer whirl around in circles placing layer after layer of cells, gel, biocompatible, and biodegradable scaffold materials were necessary to get this idea to become reality. After much trial and error we were able to print a living “breathing” lab-grown trachea.
In the beginning of 2016 the 3D bioprinter was submitted into Northwell Health’s Breakthrough contest where the winner received additional funds to further their research and make their scientific dream a reality. All of the 61,000 employees in our organization were able to vote on the breakthrough that they found the most significant in effecting patients care, and the printer happened to be the winner. Without Northwell’s support this project would still be just an idea. I have been able to take away important skills throughout this journey – whether it be about patient customer service, or a complicated statistical analysis of scientific data, without the Northwell Health family like environment I would still be wandering the halls looking for my niche. I have now graduated from the medical school and Northwell has created a unique roll for me as I share my time between the Orthopedics Lab and the Northwell Ventures Team serving as a technical analyst, as the hospital rolls out new innovative business ventures furthering our patient care capabilities. I now get to help shape the innovative future of healthcare, both in and out of the lab, as we take ideas from the bench top and translate them to the bedside.