Latest 3D Bioprinting Technique Inspired by Chinese Woodblock Printing

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This is a guest post by Abdul Rehman, whose bio is at the end of the article.

Throughout history, the simplest, most mundane things have inspired great scientific breakthroughs.

Isaac Newton saw an apple falling to the ground and put forward his theory of gravity. Albert Einstein imagined a man falling off a building and formed his theory of relativity.

Perhaps the latest bioprinting technique called “Block Cell Printing” falls into the same category as it is inspired by centuries’ old Chinese woodblock printing.

Block-Cell Printing

Developed by researchers in Houston, “block-cell printing” or “BloC printing” is a technique for making single layered patterns of living cells. It uses microfluidic physics to guide living cells into small hook-like traps. Cells flow down columns in a mold and assume definite positions according to predefined criteria. When the mold is lifted, the cells remain behind on a substrate retaining the same predefined pattern.

Block Cell 3D Printing

This technique is quite similar to the Chinese woodblock printing technique through which they printed text, images or patterns using wooden blocks and ink. Lidong Qin, the head of the research team, says: “It’s essentially the same as the ancient woodblock printing.”

So, in block cell printing, the mold is the wooden block, the cells form the ink and the substrate is the paper.

Comparison with Contemporary Techniques

Presently, bioprinting companies like Organovo, use a technique called inkjet printing. When compared to it, block cell printing:

Lidong Qin Bioprinting

  1. Keeps More Cells Alive: One problem with the inkjet technique is that many cells (20-50%) die during the process. In contrast, in block cell printing, almost all the cells survive. Qin says: “A survival rate of 50 to 80 percent is typical as cells exit the inkjet nozzles. By comparison, we are seeing close to 100 percent of cells in BloC-Printing survive the printing process.”
  2. Is More Economical: Another big advantage that block cell printing enjoys over the traditional techniques is that it is far more affordable. Each BloC mold costs around $1 to produce. In comparison, an inkjet printer costs anywhere from $10,000 to $200,000. So, research companies can cut down their costs by utilizing block cell printing.
  3. Is Unable to Produce Three-Dimensional Structures Yet: Although it is revolutionary in many aspects, till now, block cell printing hasn’t been able to produce three-dimensional structures like tissues and organs. This is what the researchers are focusing on next.

Possible Uses of BloC Printing

Qin says that this technique is especially useful for two purposes:

Cancer Diagnosis and Research

The first is cancer diagnosis and research. By studying the behavior and characteristics of cells of cancer patients in the mold, such as how they move in the columns of the mold, BloC printing can be used to diagnose the stage of the cancer. This can then be used for treatment and research purposes.

Neuron Research

Another thing for which block cell printing is especially useful is neuron research. This technique can print neurons as close as 5 micrometers. So, it can be used to study their interactions with one another. Qin states: “Such work could be helpful in understanding Alzheimer’s disease and other neurodegenerative diseases.”

Chinese Woodblock 3D Printing bioprinting

Old Technique, New Technology

3D bioprinting has recently become popular as it has the capability to revolutionize the drug and organ industries. It provides a ray of hope for many patients with terminal diseases. However, many concerns have been raised because of its high cost and complexity. Block cell printing has changed that concept and proven that bioprinting can be achieved economically and simply. Once it is able to form 3D tissues, perhaps this millennia-old technique will become the latest and greatest technology!


About the author: Abdul Rehman is a medical student with a keen interest in all things technology. Computers, graphic cards, mobiles, tablets, 3d printing and tissue engineering are just a few of the things he’s been following for years. A regular author at for a year, he’s written on dozens of 3D printing topics from aviation to fashion.

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