Raphael Lichtnecker: Bioprinting at Puredyne, ViscoTec

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Raphael Lichtnecker: I got my Master´s degree in Pharmaceutical Bioprocess Engineering at Technical University Munich. Afterwards I started as Business Development Manager at ViscoTec where I am responsible for the technology transfer of the progressive cavity pump to the bioprinting sector. I´m in this position for four years now. Raphael Lichtnecker will be sharing his experiences at our virtual event 3D Bioprinting Cancer.

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

Raphael: I´m a tech-enthusiast and had my first encounter with 3D printing via some YouTube channels I was following. I was stunned by the possibilities that emerged from additive manufacturing. Luckily, I got the chance to get “hands-on” experience with different 3D-printing methods in my position at ViscoTec.

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

Raphael: I was lucky at this point. After finishing my thesis on the shear behavior of different pump types I got the offer to work at ViscoTec for a new kind of application. There was already a lot of experience in the company about extrusion-based 3D printing with fluids and pastes but a lack of knowledge about pharmacology and biology. I could meet those needs and was also very curious about what could be achieved in this field, so I started as a Business Development Manager for bioprinting.

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

Raphael: I really can´t name one single person who inspired me. It is more the whole community with its scientific collaboration that I like a lot. People try to help each other and develop the best possible solutions for urgent problems. There are a lot of talented people who have great ideas on how to proceed and push the limits of what is possible. Being a small part of this really satisfies me. 

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Jenny: What motivates you the most for your work? 

Raphael: To be able to solve problems with new ideas. As probably anybody does, I like it when an idea leads to a solution to a problem. In the best case, the idea is new and really has an impact. This is what I feel about the technology we developed and that motivates me.

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

Raphael: The biggest obstacle so far was to transfer an established principle (progressive cavity pump) to the completely new field of bioprinting while meeting all requirements of this application. With a lot of cross-sectional teamwork, we were able to re-invent the progressive cavity pump for bioprinting. Now the challenge is to spread the word about this product.

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)?

Raphael: In my opinion, the biggest challenge is to stay patient. I assume all of us have the vision of being able to deliver organs on-demand as the holy grail of bioprinting. We are still quite far from that. At the moment the problem is addressed from many different sides because it is incredibly complex.

From the software side, there is a need to process data in a way like nature would grow tissue. There are starting points to solve this problem, but no final solution.

From the material side, there are already some good substrates out there and the number is growing constantly, but biology is extremely complex, and a great set of materials will be needed to get closer to the final goal. And last, the fabrication process itself must improve a lot.

The processes for fabrication are still too one-dimensional. With that, I mean that there will be a great need for different technologies and materials to be processed at a reasonable speed with the best accuracy possible to get closer to printed organs. This is where I hope we can improve the state-of-the-art technology with progressive cavity pumps. After the printing process of course the maturation process will be a great focus in the future when it comes to more complex structures and the need to train the tissue. This seems all like an unsolvable problem, but this is exactly why we must be patient. Progress is being made every day and this is what counts. 

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

Raphael: These may seem a little childish and philosophical, but if I had those superpowers I would wish for those:

  • Stop humanity from eradicating itself and other life forms by irreversibly damaging the environment. Life is worthless on a destroyed planet.
  • Especially driven by the brutal war of Russia on Ukraine I wish for peace and freedom for everyone and the ability to live a self-determined life.
  • The ability for everyone to appreciate what they have. It does not matter how healthy you are, how much money you have, or what your status is if you cannot appreciate it. I have seen really poor people being happier than the richest people I know because they could appreciate what they had. This is my personal recipe for luck.
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Jenny: What advice would you give to a smart driven college student in the “real world”? What bad advice you heard should they ignore? 

Raphael: My advice would be that learning never stops. When you come from the university you may think that you will use all your knowledge in your profession. This is probably not going to happen. But you will learn new skills and improve in other fields if you keep being open to new things. To be honest, I´ve not been given bad advice that I could remember. Hang on to the good things, not the bad ones. 

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