Interview with Taciana Pereira, 3D Bioprinting and Allevi

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Taciana Pereira is the Vice President of Life Sciences at Allevi, where she leads research and development efforts for 3D bioprinting applications and bioinks. She is also responsible for Allevi’s strategic partnerships within the pharmaceutical and life science industries. Originally from Curitiba, Brazil, Taciana has a B.Sc. in bioengineering from Harvard University, where she worked at the Wyss Institute for Biologically Inspired Engineering under the advisory of David Mooney (PhD).

Taciana is also the co-lead and co-chair of the Regenerative Medicine Manufacturing Society and New Organ Alliance 3D bioprinting working groups. Taciana’s work in the fields of tissue engineering and regenerative medicine has helped to standardize 3D bioprinting and enable this technology’s adoption by researchers worldwide. She will be speaking at the Biofabrication Ecosystem panel at 3DHEALS2020.

Jenny: When did you first encounter the concept of 3D printing and bioprinting? 

Taciana: I first heard about 3D bioprinting when I was an undergraduate researcher at the Mooney Laboratory for Cell and Tissue Engineering at the Wyss Institute for Biologically Inspired Engineering. At the time, I did all of my work manually and was excited about the possibility of automating and standardizing my experiments. I was also looking for positions at tissue engineering/biomaterials-related startups and found Allevi, where I was officially initiated into the world of 3D bioprinting.  

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

Taciana: I lost all of my grandparents to cancer when I was young, after which I knew I wanted to devote my time to research that could contribute to mitigating the effects of this horrible disease. In bioengineering, I saw the possibility to develop innovative technologies that can save lives at a large scale. I see 3D bioprinting as a versatile platform that can target many diseases at once, and so I thought this was the right way to combine my skills and academic passions with my life goal.  

Jenny: Who inspired you the most along this journey?

Taciana: My advisor, Dr. David Mooney. When I got to Harvard, after having come all the way from Brazil, I still did not know what I wanted to do long term. After seeing his work ethic and impact up close, I knew that I wanted to follow in his steps. He was a great mentor and continues to inspire me every day.

Jenny: What are you most passionate about right now? 

Taciana: I have been dedicating almost all of my time to our COVID-19 project. We just received a grant to work on COVID-19 modeling and drug screening using SARS-CoV-2-infected 3D bioprinted lung organoids. We really hope to be able to contribute to the essential work that the scientific community has been doing through the most difficult time our generation has lived (and is still living). 

Jenny: What are some key elements that enable your current work/success/growth? 

Taciana: I always like to reinforce the importance of mentorship, because it has played a major role in the course of my work, leading to my growth and, eventually, to my success. In addition to my personal mentors, Allevi has phenomenal scientific advisors, such as Dr. Zhang, from the Harvard Medical School, and Dr. Langer, from MIT. Having their help in deciding our direction is crucial and extremely constructive. I am also inspired and supported by my incredible multi-disciplinary co-workers. We are always helping each other to make the company and the field of 3D bioprinting grow. 

Jenny: What do you think has not been done enough to advance the field of bio-fabrication?

Taciana: I believe a lot has already been and is being done, however, I recognize that identifying what is lacking contributes to making the field stronger. There are two aspects that I believe still need reinforcement: investment and regulations. There are technologies that are justifiably well funded because there is a large current market for those solutions. 3D bioprinting is a nascent technology, so oftentimes I see investors being too risk-averse in funding this area because they do not understand it as much.

I believe that 3D bioprinting has enormous potential to solve a variety of problems related to health and other sectors, so I would encourage investors to learn more about the field. Finally, regulations around 3D bioprinting are still unclear, again, because it is a new and growing technology. As its relevance continues to increase, however, we need clearer standards to be able to generate even more impact.  

Jenny: What are some of the most notable progress made in the field of 3D bioprinting with Allevi and in general? Anything we should hope for for 2020? 

Taciana: Allevi has focused on providing end-to-end solutions to our customers with software, hardware and wetware tools that empower the researcher to generate impact. In 2020, we kept striving to provide these all-encompassing solutions. We have the most cost-effective and versatile 3D bioprinters and software in the market, along with cells, bioinks, and reagents for a variety of applications. In addition, we have extensive repositories of protocols and support articles that guide users through a realm of useful experiments in 3D bioprinting. These experiments go all the way from cell preparation, to bioink preparation, to printing, to culturing 3D constructs. Allevi will continue to develop innovative products to push the field forward, while supporting the 3D bioprinting community as a whole, with more exciting content, product offerings and partnerships.

Jenny: How does COVID-19 change that plan? How are you adapting to the new norm? 

Taciana: Quarantines and lockdowns have put a lot of research on hold. We have seen users print less due to labs being temporarily closed, but we are working from home to support our community in their homes. We continue, however, to generate content around 3D bioprinting, and our lab is open (with government clearance and following all safety guidelines) as we work on the COVID-19 project described above. 

Jenny: Software, materials, or 3D printers. It has been a debate in the industry forever as to which is the most important player. What do you think is the most important player in healthcare 3D printing? 

Taciana: It is and has to be a combination of the three. Without an easy-to-use software, you create a barrier that limits people from getting into 3D bioprinting. Without the proper hardware, you might not have the optimal temperature control to print an ECM, or the motor precision to achieve a desired print resolution. Without the correct materials, your cells might not behave and function as the tissue you are trying to recapitulate. We have always focused on the three, developing the most advanced 3D bioprinters that enable the most physiologically relevant materials to be printed. We have also received very positive feedback from our customers on the versatility of our software. It is definitely something that stands out in the market.  

Jenny: What motivates you the most for your work? 

Taciana: The potential that our technology and the field have to enable truly personalized medicine. 

Jenny: What do you think are the biggest challenges in bio-printing? What do you think the potential solutions are?

Taciana: The biggest challenges are mostly technical and entail the development of a universal bioink, universal cell media, feasible cell sourcing, large-scale soft tissue vascularization, and clearer regulations. We and other key players in the field have developed several solutions to these issues. Allevi has a repository of protocols and products for several applications, including soft tissue vascularization. We have also partnered with large life science companies that have been disrupting the field for decades, such as Lonza, to offer cells, and Corning, to offer the most widely used ECMs in tissue engineering. However, there is still more work to be done not only by us but by all of the industry and academia. In recognizing that this is a joint effort, we are part of several research groups, leading the 3D bioprinting committees at the New Organ Alliance and Regenerative Medicine Manufacturing Society, for example. 

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

Taciana: The most significant advice I have gotten and always like to pass forward is that people should find mentors to learn from. When you find a passion and develop goals, you are best supported by learning with others. If your goal is difficult, it will continue to be difficult, but your path will be clearer and you will have access to more resources when you are surrounded by experts. 

The bad advice that people should ignore is when someone says that what you are trying to do is impossible. I have been told many times in my journey that what I was trying to do was impossible – and I did it. It may sound cliché, but I have learned that with grit, hard work, and the right people beside you, nothing is impossible.  

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Jenny: If you could have a giant billboard to promote a message to millions and even billions of people in the 3DHEALS community, what message would that be? 

Taciana: Print alive. Print Allevi.

Jenny: What was the biggest risk you took in your career?

Taciana: The biggest risk I took in my career was to move from Brazil to the US by myself when I was 18. It also ended up leading to the highest rewards, but that is usually how these things work.

Jenny: What do you enjoy in your spare time? What are you passionate about outside of your work/3d printing?

Taciana: I am passionate about a lot of activities, including reading, playing music, running, playing soccer, and talking to my family that lives in Brazil. I spend a lot of my spare time playing the guitar, composing and singing. In fact, some of that time is devoted to rehearsing songs with the Allevi band (yes, we have a band).

Jenny: What is your favorite quote? Why?

Taciana: “If I have seen further it is by standing on the shoulders of Giants.” (Newton, 1675)

No scientist makes a discovery alone. This quote reminds me that any assumption I make, or any experiment that I perform is only possible because of the work of others from the scientific community. I also want to use this space to thank my scientist peers who have always played a crucial role in society, and who are now playing a more important role than ever.

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