What kind of cells would be used?
Leavens: We are looking at the patient’s own cells in the first application. This usually involves taking a small skin biopsy, from which cells are extracted. The key cells for the printing process are keratinocytes and fibroblasts as they are key for the regeneration of the two levels of the skin: fibroblasts for the dermis and keratinocytes for the epidermis.
We are developing this as a platform technology, so it is certainly on the horizon to also use cells from other sources like allogeneic cells provided by cell banks or cultured autologous cells, meaning ones from the patients themselves. They would be extracted before the actual surgery and then expanded in a cell culture to provide a larger number of cells.
How far along are you in development?
Leavens: We are currently conducting preclinical studies. Our first clinical study is planned to start in December 2023. We are essentially in a research phase but are currently moving steadily towards commercialization.
At MEDICA 2022, you were exhibiting at the stand of robot manufacturer KUKA and were taking part in the KUKA Innovation Award. What does this mean to you?
Leavens: The support from KUKA has certainly assisted the development of our application significantly. We have been able to fast-track our platform development because KUKA have generously loaned the LBR Med robotic arm, to us and they did for all of the finalists in the KUKA Innovation Award. The LBR Med is an out-of-the-box robotic arm that is ISO 60601 compliant and follows the safety standard for electro-medical devices. And we have full support from their technical staff which has been really amazing.
What feedback did you receive from the visitors at MEDICA?
Leavens: We were certainly prepared for a lot of questions about the application because not too many people are familiar with 3D bioprinting and tissue engineering, and a lot of people were quite excited about the possibilities the technology could offer. Also, many were interested in when it will become a commercial reality. It is very encouraging to get this kind of feedback from potential distributors and partners, even though it is probably a little too early for us to make this kind of discussions more formal. But we are looking forward to being able to use these types of contacts to move our work forward in the near future.