Faces of Bioprinting: Meet Alex Cetnar from the Georgia Institute of Technology

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Name: Alex Cetnar
Institution: Georgia Institute of Technology
1. What peaked your interest to start working with bioprinting?
3D printing has been an essential tool in my prototyping experience, and when my advisor and I began investigating structural heart diseases, bioprinting offered a viable option for prototyping biomimetic tissues.  Bioprinting enables us to control 3D spatial and geometric designs while selectively patterning cell types.  This helps us better recreate developing heart models.  I also enjoy having an immediate, tangible product I can use within minutes.
2. What are you currently working on and how is it making an impact in the field? 
Currently, I’m working with my lab to recreate biomechanical models of the developing heart.  Essentially, we bioprint a tiny heart and test how flow makes it grow.  Because congenital heart diseases manifest during the first several weeks of fetal development, we are studying which mechanical forces shape that process and how they may be reversed.  Flow at early heart stages is critical to development, so we are quantifying the delicate biological and mechanical relationship between the tissue and fluid.  Timing of these interactions is also important because that relationship evolves rapidly in organ development.  Our goal is to then regulate and restore that biomechanical relationship toward normal heart growth.  Until now, research like this was impractical, but the latest stem cell, biofabrication, and tissue culture technologies have made this possible.  Most importantly, our research is bringing new insights and hope to families combatting diseases with very low survival rates, such as hypoplastic heart left syndrome (HLHS).
3. What advice would you give to other students who have just started working  with 3D Bioprinting? 
Bioprinting is an art as much as it is a science.  There are many variables involved in a print (eg. materials, temperatures, speeds, and pressures), and the more of these you can control, the more consistent your results will be.  If you want to achieve a reproducible result, it will take practice, failure, and repetition — especially when printing with living cells.  Patience is key as with any worthwhile challenge, and don’t be afraid to reach out to others.  Experienced researchers could save you weeks of toiling in a matter minutes.

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