HydroXGel develops 3D-printable materials for happy cells
Printing human spare parts with a 3D printer remains a distant goal, but even today, 3D printing is utilised in both drug development and medicine. A research group at the polymer chemistry unit of the University of Helsinki is developing new materials for 3D printing of cells.

Three-dimensionality has revolutionised printing

3D printing is a rapidly developing technology and an everyday hobby. Today, there are 3D printers in schools, libraries, and homes. The devices extrude molten plastic, carefully constructing computer-modelled objects layer by layer.

The same technique is applied in business life, and promising experiments are being carried out in the fields of pharmacy and medicine, with the aim of printing living cells.

3D-printed cells have many promising uses, including pharmaceutical research and drug testing, substituting for the use of laboratory animals. Moreover, the use of artificial tissue in organ transplantation is being developed with 3D-printed cellular constructs.

Humans are hydrogels

What do people have in common with toothpaste? Both are hydrogels. Hydrogels are an intermediate form of fluid and solid matter.

“Humans too are hydrogels, as the body contains on average 70% water, kept intact by bones and muscles,” says Professor of Polymer Chemistry Robert Luxenhofer, leader of the HydroXGel research project at the University of Helsinki.

The challenge in the HydroXGel project is to produce an artificial material that contains lots of water yet mouldable, with a structure that allows printing. And that’s not all. Living cells must be able to divide in this precursor.

At the chemistry laboratory of the University of Helsinki, researchers of the HydroXGel project have developed and patented promising materials that combine these features.

With a two-year grant from Business Finland, they are developing the materials further and wish to test them together with end users. At the moment, HydroXGel is looking for partners in the fields of pharmacy and medicine.

“The goal is to enter commercial production in 2025,” says Business Champion Askican Hacioglu, a member of the HydroXGel research group from the University of Helsinki.

Problem

3D bioprinting is a rapidly developing technology that could even be used to manufacture artificial limbs. However, there are deficiencies in the currently available materials. Printable hydrogels, also known as bioinks, must provide a precursor for various cell types, and their water concentration must be as close to the human water content as possible. The problem is that materials with high concentrations of water do not hold together, nor can they be extruded through the nozzle of a 3D printer into the desired shape.

Solution

HydroXGel is a novel polymer-based hydrogel that is suitable for 3D printing cells, for manufacturing a range of artificial tissues or organs using 3D printing techniques.

Business model

The research group headed by Professor Robert Luxenhofer has patented one new material, in addition to which patents are pending for two other highly promising materials. HydroXGel is looking for end users in medicine and pharmacy as partners for testing and development to make it possible to tailor the properties of the materials as needed and transition to the production stage in 2025.