Scientific Research Victor Chang Institute

New 3D Printer to help scientists fine-tune their research

Bringing the latest technology in-house to take heart research to the next level

25 March 2021

If good things come in small packages, then hopes are high for the new addition to the Victor Chang Cardiac Research Institute – a compact resin 3D printer that is set to transform the way scientists think and approach their projects at Australia’s home of heart research.

World's most advanced 3D desktop lab printer - MAX X35 385

The new resin 3D printer is small in stature, but has the capability to print the tiniest scale models, including small chambers and scaffolds that we can put heart cells into. That’s what sets it apart from the Institute’s larger sized stablemate. Whereas the older printer can output a life-size model of a human heart, this new one can replicate the most intricate structures. The MAX X35 385 is a resin Digital Light Processing (DLP) printer, with the X35 referring to the pixel size used - in this case, 35 micrometers. That’s about a third the width of a human hair. The smaller the pixel size, the higher the resolution, and, importantly, the greater the ability to drill down into precision research.

3D Printer Result

Breakthroughs with the resin 3D printer

Head of the Cardiac Electrophysiology Laboratory, Professor Jamie Vandenberg, says thanks to the new printer his team is already breaking new ground. He is trialing some new purpose-built environments, or ‘wells’ (made by the 3D printer) to cocoon stem cell derived heart cells, to form into ‘mini hearts’, so he can examine how electrical signals control the heart.

The printer works by shining a light from a digital projector, through a digital mask created by the user, into a light-sensitive resin. If you think of the resin as a honey-like, viscous substance, then as the light hits the resin, a portion of the resin will harden. The desired object is then built layer-by-layer until the whole structure is printed.

Taking early charge of the prized acquisition is Dr Valentin Romanov, who is a Postdoctoral Scientist, in the Mechanobiology Laboratory. His role includes exploring the printer’s capabilities for the diverse range of projects underway at the Institute, with a current focus on engineering the unique microstructures that can bring Professor Vandenberg’s mini hearts project to life.

Valentin Romanov 3D Resin Printer

“The beautiful part of this technology is that it gives us complete control over the discovery and creation process, in creating a new small-scale device. I can then identify potential issues or limitations my collaborators might face, such as exploring different sizes and/or materials, to see what might or might not work. Then together, we can determine how to solve them. I then go back to the computer, sketch the design, print it and give it to them for testing,” said Dr Romanov.

Possibilities with 3D printing and scientific research

The resin 3D printer is a vital tool to explore new research possibilities, that can be assessed in model form, and generated by the printer, to minimise the need for research on people.

“Right now, I am part of a collaborative effort to grow and study cardiac organoids. We grow the organoids on a plate that contains 96 wells. Each well contains a 3D printed device containing a variety of features, some as small as 50 micrometres,” said Dr Romanov.

Before the printer arrived, the scientists had to rely on accessing the technology from collaborators, or from commercial companies. Having an in-house printer like this transforms their ideas into real-life objects, more efficiently and cost-effectively. Our scientists at Australia’s home of heart research can then invent and construct structures too complex to build using traditional methods.

3D Printer Dr Valentin Romanov

“We are troubleshooting designs and working out kinks, but that’s just a part of the discovery process,” added Dr Romanov.

Lead scientist Professor Vandenberg says it really does open up a whole new world of thought innovation and action.

“The biggest difference is to encourage a new way of thinking. We don’t want people to be limited to just using off-the-shelf solutions.”

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Acknowledgement of Country

The Victor Chang Cardiac Research Institute acknowledges Traditional Owners of Country throughout Australia and recognises the continuing connection to lands, waters and communities. We pay our respect to Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander cultures; and to Elders past and present.

Victor Chang Cardiac Research Institute - The Home of Heart Research for 30 Years