AMRI Bioprinting: Integrating Makers, and Scientists

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Jordan Miller, Assistant Professor of Bioengineering at Rice University, shares how the Advanced Manufacturing Research Institute (AMRI) is providing a scientific framework for a bioprinting partnership by collaborating with the 3D printing, DIY bio, and scientific communities by repurposing both commercial and open source hardware.

AMRI is using engineering principles to understand more about biology by exploring how to print and cast tissues and blood vessel networks using extruded sugars and gels. Miller states that, science is about being open and scientists are supposed to be able to reproduce experiments. This fits well with the maker community who are already directly invested sharing and gaining knowledge.

However, Miller says, “scientists didn’t get it”, until AMRI formalized the interaction.

“This was what the power of the maker community allowed us to do in science and we couldn’t do working with a commercial company.  Commercial companies wouldn’t give us the schematics of their machine to be able to redesign it, rip out the internals and put a sugar extruder on the machine instead.”


Inspired by the format of Google’s “Summer of Code” project, AMRI brings fellows to come in and work on focused research projects in a scientific framework. By creating a structure for talented makers from around the world who have all the “key ingredients” to be scientists, AMRI is able to focus on targeted projects for improving human health. With a focus on education and improving the intellectual framework of the fellows themselves, this year’s AMRI fellows attacked the printing and casting of tissues / vascular networks from three different angles.

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Anderson Ta, Digital Fabrication Studio Technician at the Maryland Institute College of Art (and also a printer tester for the 2014 Ultimate Guide to 3D printing) repurposed a DLP projector and by changing the throw rate, used a vat-based photolithography process to micro cure gels used for tissue casting. Cells can then be embedded into the 3D printed gel during the polymerization process.

Steve Kelly – An undergrad at Worcester Polytechnic Institute in mathematics, modified an inkjet printer to extrude living bacteria. Inspired by the work done by the DIY bio group Biocurious, who modified a CD tray with an inkjet head for printing bacteria, Kelly decided to improve the process. He used a thermal inkjet head to implement the printing of bacteria into very small droplets, the width of a human hair.

Andreas Bastian, formerly at the MakerBot R&D lab and heavily involved in the e-NABLE 3D printed prosthetics project, was interested in modifying and applying wax laser sintering processes to sugar. He took a commercial laser cutter and modified it to sinter sugar, creating his own Z axis to fit inside the cutter, creating “sugar glass” for tissue engineering investigations.

Interested in participating as one of next year’s AMRI fellows?  Keep an eye on the AMRI site for the next open call!

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Anna Kaziunas France is interested practical digital fabrication focused project documentation (anything that turns codes into things), as well as adventures in synthetic biology, biohacking, personal genomics and programmable materials.

She's currently working on the forthcoming book "Design for CNC: Practical Joinery Techniques, Projects, and Tips for CNC-routed Furniture".

She’s also the Academic Dean of the global Fab Academy program, the co-author of Getting Started with MakerBot and compiled the Make: 3D Printing book.

Formerly, she worked as an editor for Make: Books, was digital fabrication editor and skill builder section editor for Make: Magazine, and directed Make:'s 2015 and 2014 3D Printer Shootout testing events.

She likes things that are computer-controlled, parametric, and open— preferably all three.

Find her on her personal site, Twitter and Facebook.

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