Interview with Prof. Ibrahim Tarik Ozbolat: 3D Bioprinting

Ibrahim Tarik Ozbolat

Ibrahim Tarik Ozbolat is an Associate Professor of Engineering Science and Mechanics, Biomedical Engineering and Neurosurgery, and a member of the Huck Institutes of the Life Sciences at Penn State University. Dr. Ozbolat’s main area of research is in the field of 3D Bioprinting. He has been working on several aspects of bioprinting such as bioprinting processes, bioink materials, bioprinters, and post-bioprinting tissue maturation for the manufacturing of more than a dozen tissues and organs. Dr. Ozbolat is a leading scientist with over 140 publications, including a sole-authored book in his domain. Due to his notable contributions to the field of bioprinting, he has received several prestigious international and national awards including the 2014 NSF CAREER Award, 2014 SME Outstanding Young Manufacturing Engineer Award, 2014 ASME Chao and Trigger Young Manufacturing Engineer Award, 2014 ASME Tau Pi Sigma Gold Medal, 2015 IIE Dr. Hamid K. Eldin Outstanding Early Career Industrial Engineer in Academia Award, 2015 International Outstanding Young Researcher in Freeform and Additive Manufacturing Award and 2017 Hartz Family Career Development Professorship at Penn State. Professor Ozbolat will be speaking at the upcoming 3D Bioprinting for Bone webinar.

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

Ibrahim: I saw a 3D printer in action while printing plaster during a tour in a Manufacturing Center at the Middle East Technical University, Turkey when I was a sophomore in 2004. The technology was so different than traditional manufacturing techniques, such as machining, and the complexity of manufactured parts intrigued my interest despite the 3D printing room was quite dusty.     

Jenny: What inspired you to start your journey in 3D bioprinting?

Ibrahim: I started working on 3D bioprinting during my Ph.D. work starting from 2007 in the Department of Industrial and System Engineering at the University at Buffalo. At that time, tissue engineering attracted my interest as reconstructing body parts was a new field and so different that the education I received in Mechanical and Industrial Engineering in my bachelor years. At that time, there were no commercially available bioprinters and we custom made a bioprinter unit using a CNC-converted 3D motion stage, and nozzle and air dispenser from a commercial vendor, and got into the magical world of bioprinting albeit the name of the field (bioprinting) was not even established at that time.    

Jenny: Who inspired you the most along this journey in 3D Bioprinting?

Ibrahim: Not in bioprinting but in science, of course, Nikola Tesla, his imagination, and amazing experiments on wireless transmission of electricity in Colorado Springs.  

Jenny: What motivates you the most for your work? 

Ibrahim: Observing a running bioprinter in the lab is the most inspirational thing! I do not deem bioprinting as just my work, rather it is a part of my life! Exploring new research directions in bioprinting and discussing the outcomes of experiments with my students and postdoctoral fellows right next to a bioprinter boosts our motivation.     

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

Ibrahim: The biggest obstacle in my 14 years of career in bioprinting came across at the time that I started my first independent research position as an Assistant Professor with very limited startup funds, which were not even sufficient to launch a small cell culture room. I was considering other options such as changing my research direction to Virtual Manufacturing and Simulation as such do not require any physical infrastructure. I was then interviewed by the American Society of Mechanical Engineers (ASME) on organ bioprinting in 2011 and laid out strategies to make that happen, particularly with the use of coaxial bioprinting for the generation of vascular networks. The article “Printed Life” was then published in early 2012 in the ASME Magazine, which received so much attention and motivated me to continue my research in bioprinting despite the very limited opportunities at the early stages of my career. In the following years, we started publishing my ideas on bioprinting as I introduced in the ASME article.  

Jenny: What do you think is the biggest challenge in 3D bioprinting?

Ibrahim: The biggest challenge in bioprinting is the unknowns in fundamental biology. The rest is mainly engineering and straightforward in general! 

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

Ibrahim: Stay healthy! 

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

Ibrahim: Lessons learned in lectures are mostly theoretical. I suggest spending more time in laboratories and tackle with real-world problems.  

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