Changing the face of 3D Printing, Biotech, and Additive Manufacturing with Dr. Shweta Agarwala

Interviewed by Cecillia Wong

Dr. Shweta Agarwala is a research scientist at Singapore Centre for 3D Printing in Nayang Technological University. She combines her multidisciplinary knowledge in electronics, materials science, manufacturing and bio-engineering for materials and new-age products catering to wearables, flexible electronics and bioelectronics. She is a leading innovator in 3D printing and additive manufacturing space for electronics and biotechnology.

Cecillia: Tell us about some of the exciting things your lab is currently working on.
Dr. Agarwala: My current research is directed towards bioprinting, bioelectronics, and printed electronics. My rendezvous with bioprinting is quite new and I am trying to understand how process control can be exploited to arrange multi-materials in desired architectures and incorporate additional functionalities with full spatial control. I am especially passionate about bioelectronics, an area of research that promises to bring two distinct fields of biology and electronics on one platform. Understanding how electronic materials interface with biological materials and species holds promise for new treatments, disease detections, implantable electronics, and medical diagnostic tools.

Cecillia: How does your lab utilize bioprinting in research?
Dr. Agarwala: We have plethora of activities around bioprinting catered to various applications. It has been observed that cells and tissues do not fully penetrate and grow within a 3D printed tissue engineered scaffold. We are exploiting bioprinting approach to print various bio-inks laden with cells to solve the issue. Bioprinting also enables the control of cellular density per droplet to customize for a targeted application. We have bioprinted scaffolds for tissue engineering of retina, oesophagus, cardiac and skin. Through bioprinting process control we are also investigating micropatterning and multi-material constructs (with and without embedded electronics).

Cecillia: Why is bioprinting technology so exciting? 
Dr. Agarwala: Bioprinting has opened new avenues to explore biological species and construct 3D scaffolds in ways not possible using earlier techniques. This technology has the potential to provide a high-throughput and low-cost method of fabricating complex tissue constructs by printing various cells and providing control at the cellular level. The fact that there is so much to explore, learn, and understand makes it very exciting.

Cecillia: What is the greatest challenge you face with this technology?
Dr. Agarwala: There are many challenges that need immediate attention. Shortage of suitable materials and lack of mechanical strength in them to form a layered construct is critical. Another greater challenge lies in creating vascularized networks for cells to survive. Lastly, I feel there needs to be more freedom around printing resolution and speed.

Cecillia: Where do you see the bioprinting industry going?
Dr. Agarwala: Bioprinting is a promising technique. It provides benefits to spatially arrange multiple cells in predefined fashion. Developing customized human organs may be the future vision, but immediate viable bioprinting solutions will encompass repair patches for damaged organs, printing cell to understand their behaviour in different environments, potential application in drug screening and 4D bioprinting.

Cecillia: What is your advice for students who want to get into the field?
Dr. Agarwala: The field of bioprinting is highly multidisciplinary. Don’t be afraid to explore and test waters even if you are not from a biology background. Start with simple structures, design, and try to answer simple questions before moving towards complex structures. Staying hungry and humble is most important.

Cecillia: When do you think organ printing will become a reality?
Dr. Agarwala: Bioprinting needs to overcome many limitations associated with inks, materials, process and printers to be an able to print complex structures and finally organs. I think it is important to be realistic about expectations from bioprinting and keep pushing the field forward.


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