Piyush Padmanabhan: Bioprinting in India

Piyush Padmanabhan journey into the world of Bioprinting began with his experience in the organ transplantation sector. Post his under graduation from Vellore Institute of Technology, Piyush began his career in the pharmaceutical sector at Biocon Limited and then at Roche Pharmaceuticals, where he worked closely with physicians and transplant coordinators in Kidney and Liver Transplants. The ever-widening gap in organs available for transplant and the need for these organs was very apparent to him. This led him to begin Next Big Innovation Labs® with Alok and Pooja, the other two co-founders of the company. In his role as the CEO and Co-Founder of Next Big Innovation Labs®, Piyush has led various deep technology projects in bioprinting and has also played a pivotal role in raising central and state government funding for the company. Some of the projects he has led are the following: the development of India’s first customised 3D Bioprinter, the development of unique temperature control fixtures for diverse bioprinting components and AI/ML integration into Trivima Bioprinting Systems. Piyush currently holds two technology patents and one process patent in the domain of bioprinting and considers himself to be an eternal student. His goal is to one day bridge the gap in the organ transplantation sector and believes in deep collaborations to achieve this goal. Piyush will be joining us at the upcoming virtual event Healthcare 3D Printing Ecosystem: India.

Jenny: When was the first encounter you had with 3D printing?

Piyush: My first experience with 3D Printing was when I had once gone in for a casual visit to Alok’s (one of the other co-founders of NBIL) house. He had a single extrusion FDM 3D Printer which had these insane blue lights. This was way back in 2015 when not many people were aware of the technology. My first reaction was an amalgamation of curiosity and astonishment. You always get to see multiple videos of subtractive manufacturing but for the first time in my life, I was seeing something getting built from the ground up. The only thought in my mind was about the mechanism behind the process. I wanted to know everything about the technology and wanted to explore more about its applications of the technology. Immediately after this experience, I went on to read as many articles and watch as many videos on youtube as I could on 3D Printing.

Jenny: What inspired you to start your journey?

Piyush: During my stint in pharmaceuticals, Biocon Limited, and Roche Pharmaceuticals, I got to interact with clinicians and transplant coordinators in depth about the challenges involved in organ transplantation and patient quality of life. These discussions were mainly revolving around renal and liver transplants, as these were the two primary focus areas for me in both organizations. These discussions would be really intensive and we would do deep dives into the various intricacies involved in patient treatment modalities, quality of life, alternative treatment strategies, and the global demand for organ availability for transplants. During my deep dive reading and watching sessions, post my visit to Alok’s home, I came across bioprinting and got to watch the TED Video by Dr. Antony Atala. There is no singular factor that led me to begin my journey. It was a convergence of multiple factors that led me on this journey.

Jenny: Who inspired you the most along this journey in Bioprinting?

Piyush: Dr. Antony Atala and Dr. Jayesh Bellare

Jenny: What motivates you the most for your work? 

Piyush: The fact that we’re working towards something bigger than ourselves. The deep collaborations we have established not only enable us but also provide us with the purpose to truly change the way clinical medicine is done on a global scale. 

Jenny: What is/are the biggest obstacle(s) in your line of work? If you have conquered them, what were your solutions? 

Piyush: When you’re starting up, you aim for the stars but realize you need to reach the moon first. Our aim as a company was to utilize bioprinters for clinical applications. In order to achieve this, we would have to have complete control over the engineering – right from the precision in the movement to the optimization of temperature control to the complex engineering solutions that would be required for precision bioprinting. The placement of each cell per square millimeter of the scaffold would matter with regard to the overall fidelity of the tissue construct.

Creating complex geometries would require absolute control over extruder and bed movements. Building the engineering from the ground up was the only solution here and this was one of the biggest hurdles for us to overcome. The first obstacle was the funding, which we closed within the first 12 months of the inception of Next Big Innovation Labs®. We received grant funding from the Karnataka State Government to build customized bioprinters. The second was actually building the technology. This was quite a challenge as we had to explore various concepts in pneumatic and droplet technologies. It did take quite a bit of reading, a bit of experimentation, and a lot of failures, but we did get there. The third was accuracy in movement and temperature control. This was where we developed two key technologies and filed patents for them.

Jenny: What do you think is (are) the biggest challenge(s) in 3D Printing/bio-printing? What do you think the potential solution(s) is (are)?

Piyush: One of the biggest challenges in Bioprinting – Bioprinting Micro-capillaries 

Potential Solution – An amalgamation of various tissue engineering technologies (freeze-drying, electrospinning, electrowriting, bioprinting, etc), novel biomaterial development that closely mimics the body’s natural micro-environment, and interdisciplinary learning.

Jenny: If you are granted three wishes by a higher being, what would they be? 

Piyush: I just have one though: Make orbital flights affordable for the common man (In order for us humans to understand that the world is one and in some instances, actually round).

Jenny: What advice would you give to a smart driven college student in the “real world”? What bad advice you heard should they ignore? 

Piyush: Never Let Others Define Who You Are and What You Can Achieve. You can always figure a way out of any difficult situation and don’t shy away from collaborating or asking for help.
Some of the bad advice you should ignore: This will not work | This is science fiction and you should work on something that will work in the short term.

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