technology

Scott Collins, chief technology officer at TeVido, works in TeVido’s lab where they use 3-D bioprinters to construct nipples and areolas for mastectomy patients.
Photo Credit: Mariana Gonzalez | Daily Texan Staff

The printers in the TeVido Biodevices office don’t print concert tickets or English essays — they use live fat cells to print nipples and areolas. 

TeVido, a technology company that just moved to Austin, has the primary goal of developing techniques to print human tissue using 3-D bioprinters. The company’s first project is printing nipple-areola complexes (NAC) for breast cancer patients who have undergone mastectomies. Currently, reconstructing the NAC after a mastectomy typically involves invasive surgery and color tattooing. If TeVido’s project succeeds,doctors will be able to adhere printed NACs to breast cancer patients in a matter of minutes. 

TeVido co-founder Laura Bosworth and Chief Technology Officer Scott Collins will lead a discussion about the company’s endeavor during South By Southwest. The event, “3D Bioprinting: The Next Revolution in Healthcare,” takes place Monday at the JW Marriott. 

Scientists have used 3-D bioprinters to print skin, tracheae and even bladders, but they typically have difficulties keeping the tissue alive in a human body. If the tissue is more than 1 millimeter wide, cells on the interior of the tissue are less likely to receive necessary oxygen and nutrients. Human muscles have solved this evolutionary problem with billions of small veins and other vascular channels. 

Collins said the team is trying to increase the width of a viable printed organ from a millimeter to a centimeter.

“Being able to direct and steer the growth of vascular channels would allow us to do the kind of engineering we need to make something more complex,” Collins said.

As the mortality rate of breast cancer continues to decrease, as it has since 1989, more breast cancer survivors live with scars from mastectomies. Collins said these scars can cause negative psychological consequences, including depression, and patients with well-reconstructed NACs are less likely to experience these effects.  

TeVido’s reconstruction technique uses a given patient’s own fat cells. Since the cells belong to the patient, the patient’s immune system is less likely to reject them. The NAC is relatively small and most patients have plenty of fatty tissue to spare, so doctors can easily collect it during surgery. 

“The nipple will look exactly as the patient wants and grow with her over the rest of her life,” Collins said.

When the TeVido team finishes the NAC project, Collins said kidneys are next on the list. The NAC project might not be finished for several years, Collins warned.

“The clinical trials will probably take three years and cost tens to hundreds of millions of dollars,” Collins said.

All around the world, researchers at a number of other facilities are conducting similar projects. Researchers at the Huazhong University of Science and Technology printed a miniature, functioning kidney that could survive for four months in a lab. Organovo, an American technology company similar to Tevido, has created viable liver tissue.

Collins said he dreams of using bioprinting technology to change lives in a powerful way.

“I did most of my research in cellular regenesis and vascular engineering,” Collins said. “The idea was to apply that to developing an artificial heart.”

The discussion across the UT System about MyEdu in the past few weeks has taken many interesting twists and turns. While there has been much controversy and negative publicity, we think it is important to come together and acknowledge that MyEdu can be a fantastic service for students on this campus, but only if we work together as a University to make that happen.

The investment of $10 million in this technology company by our Board of Regents was unexpected. Given the reduced state allocation to the University and our continued need for more faculty and better services, MyEdu may not have been where the University would put that $10 million if we had the choice. Furthermore, many of the details of the transaction have been less than transparent. Both of these factors cause concern, but they are immaterial now as the campus considers what kind of services MyEdu can offer current and future Longhorns.

Most students on campus are already users of MyEdu, and the partnership with the UT System can only make MyEdu a more accurate and relevant tool. With the right sort of input from students and faculty, MyEdu will be able to build new applications to meet campus needs. There have been concerns about accuracy and access to appropriate information, all of which are well-founded given MyEdu’s current interface. But our newly formed partnership should enable the University to integrate MyEdu’s features with accurate data and the services the University already offers. This new arrangement will help MyEdu to improve significantly in the quality and quantity of services it can offer.

MyEdu has the potential to combine many of the tools that students use into one interface that will simplify and improve the registration process. It has the potential to bring together the interactive degree audit, course schedule, calendar, course evaluations and related tools. Students could be able to see what courses they need to take, read faculty reviews and information, see how classes fit in their schedule and decide which classes will help them complete their degree in a timely and efficient way. Right now, figuring out that information requires many clicks and open widows on a computer. A new, reliable MyEdu can bring all of this together in one easy-to-use and accessible place.

The University currently has some great services available for students, but some are hard to find and most do not connect to one another. UT has made a lot of progress, but much room for improvement remains. If it works as promised, MyEdu will be able to help students navigate a better and more efficient online academic experience and path to their degrees.

It is in the best interest of students and the rest of campus for us to work together and make MyEdu great for UT. This will not be a quick or easy process, but through thoughtful and honest conversation, hard work and good will, we believe that MyEdu can become a valuable part of the college experience. It is, at the end of the day, a service for the students, and one that all of us should work to make the best that it can be.

Butler is president of Student Government; Friedman is chairman of Faculty Council; and Nietsche is president of Senate of College Councils.