Swansea University Prints New Faces

A Joint Development Agreement (JDA) has begun between Swansea University Medical School and American Process Inc. (API) in Atlanta, with the intention of developing 3D printed tissue cartilage. The materials they are developing their method with, are a mixture of human cells and nanocellulose, for use in facial reconstruction. This collaboration includes various professionals, including plastic surgeons, engineers, scientists, as well as API’s expertise in nanocellulose manufacture.

There are research facilities across the world that are developing and improving their own form of 3D printed cartilage such as Bristol University’s research into using seaweed polymers  as a scaffold for stem cells.

The innovative project Swansea University and American Process Inc. are leading has been funded by an award that was given to Swansea’s Reconstructive Surgery and Regenerative Medicine (ReconRegen) Research Group. This award was given by the United Kingdom’s Medical Research Council. The ReconRegen group has previously shown that nanocellulose is compatible with human cells, and can also be printed as a support tissue, living cells have also been shown to survive the printing process.

Cells and nanocellulose will undergo various forms of testing as part of the JDA, such as mixing the cells with various formulations and concentrations of nanocellulose as a scaffold material, before being 3D printed into tissues. The hope is that someday these living ‘parts’ could be printed in personalised shapes for patients and then go on to be used as part of reconstructive surgery. It is also hoped that the implant out also never need to be removed or replaced.

Project leader Professor Iain Whitaker says, “3D printing is increasingly used to manufacture prosthetics and implants from materials like plastic or titanium. But bio-printing – using human cells instead of man-made material – is a promising new science. We are printing living tissues, living structures, tailored to the needs of individual patients. We hope that in the future, patients who have lost all or part of their ear or nose through trauma or cancer could have reconstruction using new tissue which is grown from their own cells using nanocellulose. Biomaterials are a key component of our tissue printing technology and nanocellulose is our biomaterial of choice because of its biocompatibility, mechanical and structural properties that can support cell attachment and growth in three-dimensions.”

Nanocellulose has many desirable features which makes it perfect for the job as part of a ‘bioink’ and print medium. It has a high capacity for holding water, great for use in the body. Its arrangement of particles in water is also great for use in the body too, as it forms a gel which can be printed easily, but this gel can become firm once printed, which is perfect for forming supportive structures for tissue regeneration. In fact, this material self-assembles, allowing it to create a strong structure once it is dry, whilst also being non-cytotoxic, giving cells the best chance to live and grow.

Zita Jessop, an MRC Clinical Research Fellow, says, “We chose to partner with API because of their unique nanocellulose process that produces a variety of nanocellulose products with various particle sizes and surface chemistry and because of their ability to provide large quantities needed for our technology development efforts. We also depend on their expertise in handling and processing this unique material in our application.” Dr Ayesha Al-Sabah, a ReconRegen Postdoctoral Fellow, reported that “on trialing the nanocellulose bioink it became clear that the rheological properties were ideally suited to nozzle-based 3D bioprinting”.

According to Theodora Retsina, CEO of API, “Nanocellulose has a variety of advantages that we expect to significantly impact the growing biomedical engineering field. Tissue engineering alone will have significant impact on the global economy. According to a recent market report, the global market will increase from US$23 billion currently to over US$94 billion by 2022. We are thrilled to collaborate with the innovators at Swansea who are contributing to this global growth. We built our BioPlus® nanocellulose demonstration plant to support efforts such as this to develop break-through technologies that will provide solutions for a more healthful, prosperous future for global citizens.”

The Bioplus nanocellulose technology being developed as part of this partnership, is currently being shown at the Thomaston Biorefinery at API in Thomaston, Georgia. It’s also where the company’s laboratory research development takes place.

API is one of the leaders within the field of nanocellulose intellectual property (IP), with over 100 patents pending within nanocellulose, four of their patents have been granted in the US. under the JDA terms, its likely that third-parties interested in commercializing technology developed during the project, in the fields of3D bioprinting, plastic surgery, and tissue reconstruction with nanocellulose will license IP from both API and Swansea University.


About American Process, Inc.

Headquartered in Atlanta, Georgia, American Process, Inc. focuses on pioneering renewable materials, fuels and chemicals from biomass and develops proprietary technologies and strategic alliances in the field to be scaled industrially throughout the world.


About Swansea University Medical School Reconstructive Surgery and Regenerative Medicine Research Group

ReconRegen is a multidisciplinary team of surgeons, scientists and engineers located in the Institute of Life Sciences and Centre for NanoHealth in Swansea University with many of the researchers having dual roles as surgeons at the Welsh Centre for Burns and Plastic Surgery. The group has been awarded over two and a half million pounds worth of funding from Medical Research Council, Royal College of Surgeons, British Association of Plastic and Reconstructive Surgeons, The Healing Foundation, Welsh Assembly Government and Research and Development ABM University Health Board to pursue transalational research. The Welsh Centre for Burns and Plastic Surgery is one of the largest in the UK and The Research Environment at Swansea University was awarded 4* status in the recent REF assessment (2015). For this project, the team also collaborated with Professor Bjorn Olsen at the Harvard Stem Cell Institute focusing on cell biology and optimisation of the extra-cellular matrix organisation.

For more information about the project and BioPlus nanocellulose, please contact:

Kim Nelson, Ph.D.
VP Nanocellulose Technology
American Process Inc.
750 Piedmont Ave. NE, Atlanta, GA 30308
Phone: 1-404-872-8807, x213
E-mail: knelson@americanprocess.com