How come you were given the opportunity to teach a course at Stanford?
I´ve known Prof. Sarah Heilshorn for a few years, mainly through the Area of Advance Materials Science initiative for collaboration between Chalmers and Stanford. Sarah and I have similar background being polymer materials scientists who moved into biomedical applications. Sarah´s research group is designing and producing biopolymers with fermentation process using genetically modified strains of E.coli and I have been working for many years producing nanocellulose with Acetobacter Xylinus bacteria. Both of us use these biopolymers as scaffolds for tissue engineering and both materials are hydrogels. But scaffolds based technology has several limitations with difficulties of cell seeding in preformed porous material. 3D Bioprinting technology solves these problems because the scaffold-cell constructs are formed bottom up together with cells, and 3D Bioprinting is a new tool to design and biofabricate structures with desired microarchitecture. So Sarah is moving towards making bioinks based on her designed biopolymers and we have discovered that nanocellulose is an excellent bioink due to unique shear thinning properties. We in Sweden moved towards applications because we have larger amount of material and could scale up quickly. But I want to get more fundamental knowledge in 3D Bioprinting technology and the best way to learn is to teach! We haven´t yet reached critical mass in terms of projects and students at Chalmers so I thought maybe Stanford would have bigger needs. I suggested then to Sarah that we organize together a 3D Bioprinting graduate course/workshop. She was very enthusiastic about idea, but she is on sabbatical in Chicago during the fall. So she invited me and asked me to send an outline for the course. I was very nervous that we would not get enough students, but when Sarah announced it across the whole campus we were overwhelmed with the response. We got 18 students and postdocs who were very eager to participate. We also got one student from Chalmers and I got support from the Area of Advance Materials Science for my trip.
Can you tell us a little about the content of the course?
The course covered all aspects of 3D Bioprinting technology, with focus on materials for bioinks. The program was very intense with 4 hours lectures every day during two weeks. I put lot of energy in creating this course and I was very nervous about outcome. I felt lot of pressure when having the opportunity to teach in the Second Best University in the world. But it worked perfectly. It was so rewarding, because all my time invested in the course preparation paid back with excellent learning outcome. A very special atmosphere was created with a lot of student involvement and it acted as a huge Think Tank. Everybody contributed with news in the field, we had a lot of videos, interactive lectures with world leading experts, student assignments, projects and hands-on experiments at the end.
Who attended the course?
The majority of the participants have a background in materials science but are working in the bioengineering field, and more than half came from The Cardiovascular Institute which wants to repair human hearts using induced pluripotent stem cells derived from patient skin. This is a huge effort at Stanford Medicine with several million dollars grants from NIH and more that 50 postdocs working. They have already reached a milestone and are able to produce monolayers of beating cardiomyocytes. There is a lack of oxygenation and nutrient transport, so they think 3D Bioprinting can solve this problem.
Are there any plans for a continuation of the course?
The Cardiovascular Institute participants want to initiate collaboration with us, involving bioink development and 3D Bioprinting technology development. We have started printing with cardiomyocytes and see the challenges in the project. We will be applying for funding to continue this “3D Bioprint Heart” project with student, postdocs and faculty exchange. We are also planning to start collaborative research efforts with Sarah´s group and there is also interest to collaborate in Orthopedic applications. Great outcome for 5 weeks!
These have been the best weeks in my professional career!!! Stanford is unique because of the open collaboration between different disciplines. We need to bring this experience to Göteborg and create such an open collaboration environment between Chalmers and Sahlgrenska. I am definitely ready to give the course again at Stanford next year. I think we might have a critical mass in Sweden when we invite Sahlgrenska, Karolinska, Uppsala, Linköping and Lund.