Chief Operations Officer, Fluidform
Andrew is a co-founder of FluidForm and leads the development, manufacturing, and scale-up efforts of LifeSupport™. His research focuses on developing the next generation of techniques for vascularizing 3D bioprinted tissues to improve the clinical translational potential of tissue-engineered therapies. He will be speaking at our upcoming webinar 3D Bioprinting Vasculatures.
Jenny: When was the first encounter you had with 3D printing? What was that experience like? What were you thinking at that moment?
Andrew: I had only seen the resulting prints of some Objets when I was a senior in undergrad. I had done some “bioprinting” in Germany before then, but it wasn’t exactly FDM 3DP. When I got into the Feinberg lab I first was trained on FDM plastic printers as there’s a lot of carryover from FDM to FRESH. For the first month I would probably stare at the printer for minutes at a time watching the layers being printed, and the same was true for FRESH. It’s hypnotizing to watch. You can tell which kids will be future engineers at public events by which ones stare at a printer printing for more than 30 seconds straight.
Jenny: What inspired you to start your journey/company/career/research in 3D printing (bio-fabrication/bio-printing)?
Andrew: I got my first internship in a summer program in Germany and I got the project I put as my number one choice which involved 3D bioprinting. The gap between what I thought bioprinting was and what it actually was was quite large. I though bioprinting already had cellular placement resolution. After that summer I had a tour of Adam’s lab as a senior when taking one of his classes and seeing FRESH prior to publication along with the perspective I had gotten over the summer on the current state of the field let me know that this technology is significantly advanced, so I wanted to get in on the action. I started as a master’s student and intentionally chose the project that would help the technology advance the most, regardless of how boring it may have been. My project ended up improving the resolution of our FRESH technique by an order of magnitude and it got our lab a Science paper. I also wanted to be in the startup world instead of joining a company with 100,000 employees straight of college. This technology checked a lot of boxes for me such as actually being involved in the biomedical space, a growing future tech (3DP) and getting to be on the forefront of a field, so I knew we were poised for some kind of impact.
Jenny: Who inspired you the most along this journey in 3D printing (bio-printing/bio-fabrication)? This can be a mentor, a patient, a celebrity, anyone basically. You can name more than one as well.
Andrew: My first mentors were Andreas Blaeser and Duarte Campos at RWTH Aachen University in Germany who really got me interested in both research and 3D printing. After I came back for my senior year and onward I worked almost exclusively with TJ Hinton as my mentor for about four years as he got his PhD in Adam Feinberg’s lab. Seeing the talent and passion of the people in our company and lab makes me feel like I am getting to work with a dream team of engineers who can drive this field forward better than any other group.
Jenny: What motivates you the most for your work?
Andrew: I want to have work that has translation potential into the real world, especially in a medical context. I was deciding between engineering and medical school in high school and didn’t like all the chaos involved in our medical system, but still wanted to do engineering in a life sciences context. I think the heart is the most interesting organ in the body and it also has the highest yield in saving lives if you can improve cardiac therapies. There’s also a chance for this to be applied in a pediatric context.
Jenny: What is/are the biggest obstacle(s) in your line of work? If you have conquered them, what were your solutions?
Andrew: Misleading media. Some articles are enabled by scientists exaggerating their achievements, but either way the gap between where society thinks 3D bioprinting is and where it actually is needs to narrow.I don’t’ want there to be a 3D bioprinting “winter” like the 2 AI winters where funding dried up. From a scientific side vascularizing tissues is the biggest obstacle. After vascularizing tissues, increasing function is the next biggest. We are working on both.
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)?
Andrew: Generating the microvasculature to improve long-term viability, generating in vivo levels of function, quality control, and scalability. Printing as small vessels as possible and encouraging angiogenesis is a good start to build microvasculature, but this must be healthy microvasculature, what we could end up creating is a very nice tumor. In vivo functionality is a high bar to hit because we had 9 months in nature’s best bioreactor possible followed by constant training to generate functional tissues, but training muscles or challenging tissues in other ways could improve function prior to potential implantation. Quality control and scalability comes with more interaction with the FDA for what needs to be controlled such as print defect and patient cell variability. Cell culture scalability is not only a problem in 3D bioprinting and I am curious to see if someone can finally get cell culture to commercially expand to 3D effectively such as bead culture.
Jenny: If you are granted three wishes by a higher being, what would they be?
- Fully understanding developmental biology: Using a tech analogy if I dropped my phone in a time machine to 1960, they could understand connectivity on the motherboard, but have zero idea about coding languages driving the device, nor would they have internet. We are basically doing the same trying to understand the programming languages of cells. If we can understand this we can manipulate them to engineer tissues almost perfectly.
- Efficient, 3D FBS-free cell culture: basically make it feasible to manufacture multi-billion cell tissues quickly with fewer ethical or consistency implications.
- A printer with molecular precision that also prints quickly: self-explanatory.
Jenny: What advice would you give to a smart driven college student in the “real world”? What bad advices you heard should they ignore?
Andrew: Take risks while you’re young. Try to become the best in the world at whatever it is you’re doing, regardless of what you go into. The “follow your passion” advice is starting to get people into significant financial debt. Find the intersection of what you’re good at, what society needs, what you are passionate about and what can make you money (Japanese word is “ikigai”).
Jenny: If you could have a giant billboard to promote a message to millions and even billions of people in our community (i.e. healthcare 3D printing and bio-fabrication), what message would that be?
Andrew: Focus on making the best tissues you can. Once we start making adequate tissues, we can start talking about organs. Tissue engineering doesn’t need to put all of its eggs into the organ printing basket, as there are so many improvements to health and longevity that can happen by creating tissues on demand.
Jenny: What were/was the best investment you made in bio-printing/bio-fabrication?
Andrew: Developing and improving FRESH was time well spent. Getting a full understanding of plastic 3D printing from CAD to all printer settings has so much carryover to bioprinting.
Jenny: What were/was the worst investment you made in 3D printing/bio-printing/bio-fabrication?
Andrew: I’m struggling to think of an answer to this, which is hopefully a good sign. I think the only thing we bought that ended up being useless was one of the first kits for resin-based printers before the era of FormLabs printers.
Jenny: What was/is the biggest risk you took in your career?
Andrew: Delaying my career to be a lab tech for 3 years to develop FRESH v2.0 waiting for FluidForm to spin out instead of immediately joining industry or doing a PhD somewhere else.
Jenny: What do you enjoy in your spare time? What are you passionate about outside of your work/bioprinting?
Andrew: I love cooking, weightlifting, tennis and hiking. I like finding ways to 3D print things around the house from decorations to gear for hiking.
Jenny: What is your favorite quote? Why?
Andrew: “Ever tried. Ever failed. No matter. Try Again. Fail again. Fail better.” – Samuel Beckett
Jenny: What does the word “3DHEALS” mean to you? =)
Andrew: Using 3D printing to develop next-generation solutions to improve the health of society.