How Jobs in Life Sciences Will Be Transformed by 2020 With 3D Printing

How Jobs in Life Sciences Will Be Transformed by 2020 with 3D Printing

September 28, 2017
By Mark Terry, Breaking News Staff

3D printing seems like science fiction. Sometimes called “additive manufacturing,” 3D printing is a way of making three-dimensional solid objects from a digital file. The additive part is that the printing process lays down successive layers of material until whatever has been designed is created.

The limitations on what can be printed are seemingly only limited by the complexity of the design., for example, says, “Applications include rapid prototyping, architectural scale models & maquettes, 3D printed prosthetics and movie props. Other examples of 3D printing could include reconstructing fossils in paleontology, replicating ancient artifacts in archaeology, reconstructing bones and body parts in forensic pathology and reconstructing heavily damaged evidence acquired from crime scene investigations.”

The applications in biopharma and healthcare are potentially quite broad, including the idea of “bio-printing.” writes, “As of the early two-thousands, 3D printing technology has been studied by biotech firms and academia for possible use in tissue engineering applications where organs and body parts are built using inkjet techniques. Layers of living cells are deposited onto a gel medium and slowly built up to form three-dimensional structures.”

Case Study of a 3D Printing Company: Organovo Holdings

In August 2017, San Diego-based Organovo awarded its 2017 ExVive 3D Tissue Application Award to scientists at Amgen and Medikine. The award is designed to stimulate new applications for Organovo’s ExVive Liver and Kidney Tissues.

Organovo uses 3D printing to create functional human tissues. At some point, they may have the potential to be transplanted into the human body as organ or tissue transplants. But that’s down the road. Currently, the tissues provide researchers in academia and biopharma predictive in vitro models and the ability to test drugs on functional human tissues.

In 2014, Organovo inked a deal with Johnson & Johnson to work on 3D printed tissues for drug discovery. In fact, J&J seems very interested in the technology, working with HP on developing software and devices for patient-specific, personalized medical devices. And J&J also partnered recently with the University of North Florida to create the 3D Printing and Netshape Technologies Centre Polymer Laboratory, which will focus, not surprisingly, on developing 3D printing technologies.

Earlier this year, in May 2017, Organovo presented preclinical data at the World Advanced Therapies and Regenerative Medicine Congress in London. The company had previously implanted 3D bioprinted human liver tissue patches onto the livers of healthy immune-deficient mice. It presented promising early data in an established model for alpha-one-antitrypsin deficiency.

“With tens of thousands of patients being treated for inborn errors of metabolism (IEMs) in the U.S., and an annual cost per patient that exceeds $250,000 for drug therapy alone, Organovo is advancing novel therapeutic solutions for direct surgical implantation,” said Eric David, Organovo’s chief strategy officer and executive vice president of preclinical development, in a statement. “Our preclinical data continues to show increased durability of the liver tissue and strong early evidence of successfully impacting the disease state in animal models.”

The company plans to submit an Investigational New Drug (IND) application to the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) for its therapeutic liver tissue sometime in 2020.

What 3D Printing Means for Life Science Researchers

Aside from a very long list of potential areas where 3D printing can be used already, such as in making prosthetics, possible tissue and organ models, the potential is creating entirely new job possibilities.

Paul Strouts, global managing director of Hays Life Sciences, a global recruiting firm, writes, “Such developments highlight accelerating cross-fertilization between the sciences—cooperation between the biological, technology, engineering and digital disciplines are yielding healthcare innovations and employment opportunities that would not exist without this crossing of boundaries. As 3D printing becomes more widely adopted, expect to find the pharmaceutical and allied industries seeking out candidates with design, modelling and engineering skill sets, particularly when they exist alongside classical medical and life science backgrounds.”

In 2016, Eugene Borukhovich, writing for, noted, “Compared to other sectors, 3D printing technology has played a minor role in healthcare so far. Experts assume that healthcare only accounted for 1.6 percent of all investments made into the $700 million 3D printing industry. However, that number is expected to grow to 21 percent over the next 10 years.”

And, in fact, market research firm projects that 3D printing for medical applications will have a market value of $2.13 billion by 2020. Potential changes to the biopharma industry include:

1. Personalized drug dosing.

Although speculative, imagine being able to print personalized 3D oral tablets—printed, potentially, right in the doctor’s office or pharmacy, individualized to age, race and gender.

2. Unique dosage forms.

Borukhovich writes, “The idea would be to use inkjet-based 3D printing technology to create limitless dosage forms. According to experts, it is likely that this could challenge conventional drug fabrication. The process to create novel dosage forms has already been tested for many drugs, and we will only witness more innovation as time moves on.”

3. More complex drug release profiles.

These describe how a drug is metabolized by each patient. Designing and printing drugs, according to Borukhovich, would make it easier to understand patients’ release profiles. “As drug manufacturers start to understand the full set of opportunities allowing them to make more effective drugs,” he writes, “there will likely be more research and investment into this area in the coming years.”

4. Printing living tissue.

Organovo is an example of this, but some experts predict that a fully functioning 3D printed heart is less than 20 years away. That would be challenging now, and some tissues that aren’t as complex or vascular—say skin, for example—might be easier and on a nearer timeline.

Examples of Jobs Today

Some people are already working in the field and there are already jobs available. Examples include:

Research Associate II for Organovo in San Diego.

Under the guidance of a project scientist or program leader, this candidate would perform general lab work to support the Therapeutics group including cell culture, preparation of 3D bio-ink, bioprinting, and maintenance and analysis of printed constructs. The position calls for a bachelor’s degree in biology, physiology, molecular and cellular biology, biomedical engineering, and a minimum of two years of experience.

Senior Scientist for Organovo in San Diego.

This position calls for a PhD in toxicology, pharmacology or a related field with 5+ years of post-doctoral experience and at least three years of industry experience. The position will conceive, design, execute and interpret validation studies in already optimized 3D tissue models, such as liver and kidney.

Biomaterial Scientist for VitroLabs in San Francisco.

Calling for a PhD in material science or biology, this position will work directly with the company’s chief science officer and in parallel with its R&D team to stem cell-based bioengineering projects.

Biomedical Engineering – Technician for EnvisionTEC in Dearborn, Mich.

This position calls for a minimum of a bachelor’s degree in biomedical engineering, tissue engineering, chemistry or biology. The candidate will be part of the Rapid Prototyping Team, which focuses on the 3D-Bioplotter System for processing a variety of biomaterials within the process of Computer Aided Tissue Engineering form 3D CAT models and patient CT data.

It seems that the future is now. And 2020 isn’t far down the road. Are you ready for the 3D bioprinting revolution?

Check out the latest Career Insider eNewsletter - September 28, 2017.
Sign up for the free bi-weekly Career Insider eNewsletter.