Gartner Blog Network

Is Bioprinting the Ultimate Use of Jetting Technology?

by Pete Basiliere  |  June 25, 2019  |  Submit a Comment

Jetting technology has the most upside potential of any imaging technology. Ricoh’s bioprinting partnership with Elixirgen Scientific is the latest evidence.

Jetting technology is used in “2D” printing of paper, vinyl, textiles and other substrates. Within the 3D printing market, material jetting, binder jetting and even instances of powder bed fusion employ jetting technologies at their core. While jetting technologies, both 2D and 3D, continue to improve, for me bioprinting stands out for its life-altering and life-saving opportunities.

Ricoh has been developing, refining and expanding the uses of its jetting technologies for 40 years. Ricoh’s recently announced strategic business partnership with, and 34.5% ownership of, Elixirgen Scientific will enable it to participate in the development of biomedical products and services that support drug discovery based on cell differentiation technology (1). The companies will work on drug discovery through “the manufacture and delivery of cells differentiated from induced pluripotent stem (iPS) cells (2), cell chips (3) seeded with precisely differentiated cells, and evaluation services for drug responses.”

iPSCs can differentiate almost any type of cell in the human body such as cardiomyocytes, neurons, hepatocytes, muscles, etc. Elixirgen Scientific’s Quick-Tissue technology can reportedly induce iPS cells and embryonic stem cells to form various types of cells in just 10 days. Elixirgen has developed the cocktails for 8 types of cells and is working on more.

Ricoh’s work with Elixirgen Scientific is one of its first applications related to bioprinting. Ricoh is also developing bioprinting technology which seeks to provide the standard for quantifying the number of DNA molecules for genetic testing. According to the company, “genetic testing methods are widely used in inspections of GMO (genetically modified organism) foods, cancers, and infectious viruses, and the ‘standard’ is expected to increase reliability of those inspections.”

How does bioprinting with jetting technology work? In Ricoh’s implementation, the printhead gently ejects cells as tiny droplets from the inkjet head, similar to conventional inkjet printers. The arrangement of different types of cells is crucial when reconstructing or mimicking tissues. Ricoh’s bioprinting system patterns the cells by ejecting different types of cells from different inkjet heads just like a normal printer prints several different types of inks. A printhead specialized for jetting cell suspension material is one of the key components of its bioprinting technology. The design reportedly prevents cells from clogging inside of the head and reduces potential damage.

Delivering Cells from an Inkjet Head and Counting Cells in Mid-air Droplets

Source: Ricoh

Bioprinting involves printed cells, impregnated hydrogels, DNA, proteins, chemicals, biologic structures and more. Mainstream media mostly covers bioprinting for studying complex organ development and tissue regeneration (skin, cartilage, bones and blood vessels). However, the bulk of the activities within the life science industry are for improving assays for drug toxicity, in-vitro organ models, organ-on-chip studies and cosmetics assays. Gartner’s Hype Cycle for 3D Printing highlights three 3D bioprinting applications with very different challenges and different time frames for their adoption:

  • 3D bioprinted organ transplants produce living tissue products that function like human organs for transplant purposes.
  • 3D bioprinting for life science R&D is the use of 3D printing technologies to understand disease and drug responses in lifelike 3D environments.
  • 3D bioprinted human tissue is the use of 3D printing technology to build functioning living tissue in vitro (e.g., skin) for human use.

In the bioprinting arena, companies and research institutions that are already participating include 3D Bioprinting Solutions, Aprecia, Aspect Biosystems, Bio3D Technologies, EOS, nScrypt, Organovo, Regenovo Biotechnology, The University of Iowa, Wake Forest Institute for Regenerative Medicine and Wyss Institute. In addition to Ricoh, Canon, HP, Xaar and Xerox are among the companies with inkjet technologies that are or could be applied to bioprinting.

One day, 3D bioprinted tissues using the patient’s own cells could avoid the rejection of implanted or transplanted tissues, and the costs of a lifetime of anti-rejection drugs. But while bioprinting is potentially disruptive, the relationships between bioprinting, three-dimensional cell cultures, informatics and assay validation are not well characterized. Also, as a R&D methodology, bioprinting requires further confirmation testing prior to widespread acceptance.

2D and 3D jetting technologies have room to grow and tremendous upside capacity. For me, bioprinting’s potential impact on society makes it the ultimate use of jetting technology.


Notes source: Ricoh/Elixirgen Scientific announcement

(1) Differentiation: The process in which a cell becomes specialized in order to perform a specific function, as in case of a liver cell, a blood cell or a neuron.

(2) Induced pluripotent stem (iPS) cell: Cell with pluripotency that can introduce several kinds of genes into somatic cells and can differentiate into many cells like ES cells, and has self-replication ability that can be maintained even after division and proliferation.

(3) Cell-chip: Living cells in a well, which is used for drug safety and efficacy testing before any testing on humans or animals.

Additional Resources

Category: 3d-printing  additive-manufacturing  advanced-manufacturing  innovation-led-growth  

Tags: 3-d-print  3d-print  3d-printer  additive-manufacturing  binder-jetting  bioprinter  bioprinting  canon  elixirgen-scientific  hp  hp-inc  hype-cycle-for-3d-printing  material-jetting  powder-bed-fusion  rd  ricoh  xaar  xerox  

Pete Basiliere
Research Vice President
12 years at Gartner
18 years IT Industry

Mr. Basiliere provides research-based insights on 3D printing and digital printing hardware, software and materials. Mr. Basiliere's Maverick research coined the term Generation AI, people born after 2010 who will not know a world without application intelligence in their lives. Read Full Bio

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Comments or opinions expressed on this blog are those of the individual contributors only, and do not necessarily represent the views of Gartner, Inc. or its management. Readers may copy and redistribute blog postings on other blogs, or otherwise for private, non-commercial or journalistic purposes, with attribution to Gartner. This content may not be used for any other purposes in any other formats or media. The content on this blog is provided on an "as-is" basis. Gartner shall not be liable for any damages whatsoever arising out of the content or use of this blog.