Scott Collins

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.”

Eighteen university teams from nine different countries showcased their innovations in a technology competition in Austin on Saturday.

The Clint W. Murchison Sr. Chair of Free Enterprise at UT hosted the Idea to Product Global Competition, an annual event designed to explore student innovations.

Universities compete for cash prizes worth $53,500 and a chance to enter the Texas Venture Labs Investment Competition. Entrepreneurs, venture capitalists and engineers evaluate participants in four categories based on the innovation and feasibility of their technology.

UT alumnus Scott Collins, the event coordinator, said UT founded the I2P Competition in 2003. Six teams competed in the first international competition and it has since expanded to include teams from other countries.

“It is interesting to see new technology and how it is evolving,” he said. “We see how these students bring it to the world and that is really neat.”

UT’s team, Digital Proctor, won second place in the Cockrell School of Engineering Global Championship.

Their project prevents cheating by profiling how students interact online, such as how they type. The program creates a profile for each user that can later be used by faculty to ensure students haven’t cheated. Midland College and Dallas Baptist University have already implemented the system, and the team is attempting to install a similar model to monitor Blackboard at UT.

Hyunji Lim, biomedical engineering graduate student, was part of the team presenting Digital Proctor.

“I’ve been watching I2P Global for the last two years and am glad to participate this year,” she said. “I2P Global is a great place to learn different technology commercialization approaches and communicate with international student entrepreneurs.”

Penn State displayed Mashavu, a telemedicine system that connects medical professionals in Kenya with local citizens. The team hopes to distribute the computer-based system in the African country to collect medical information such as body temperature and blood pressure from citizens. The information is then sent to medical professionals who will respond to the patient if needed.

The design won second place in the McCombs School of Business Global Championship.

Roma Amin, a premed junior at Penn State, said the team visited Kenya to implement the system and ran 500 patients through the four established stations. A first time participant in I2P Global, Amin said she was impressed by the outreach of the program.

“It is a great way to get social entrepreneurs from across the world together under one roof,” she said.