A future – both for a coral reef and human organs

In the time it took to interview CEO Cecilia Edebo – twenty minutes – an ear was printed. Something unique is happening in Gothenburg.

Since Cellink was founded in 2016, things have happened quickly. The company works with 3D bioprinting, which makes it possible for scientists all over the world to 3D print human cells and organs.

We meet in the attractive foyer of Entré Kallebäck, where Cellink, part of the Bico Group, has just moved. After six years in different places they now have research, development, production, and sales and marketing under the same roof.

“Sorry – the figures held me up. You have to pinch yourself when they show 75 per cent growth over the previous month – again,” says Cecilia Edebo, who has been CEO of Cellink for just over a year.

We move to the latest bioprinter to produce human tissue using a combination of bioinks and cells, otherwise known as bioink. 2/3 of what Cellink sells is bio printers and 1/3 is bioink. Customers include universities and researchers, as well as companies producing pharmaceuticals, hygiene products and cosmetics. There are already 7,000 publications which include Cellink’s solutions.

“We have around 60 different bioinks ready to be used to produce organs anywhere in the body,” says Cecilia while an ear begins to take shape in the printer.

Now it’s me who has to pinch herself while six printer heads get to work. It’s possible to use six bioinks simultaneously.

Work closely with scientists

To make a real ear human cells are taken and grown for clinical use.

A 28 000 babies are born every year with a defective outer ear “Microtia”, so many people’s lives would improve by having tailor made ears. It’s the same for cancer patients who have lost a nose, cheek or other skeletal parts.

“We work closely with scientists to understand what they need. Often, they’re not experts at bioprinting so we have our own specialists who help them print exactly what they want.”

Many parts of the human body are made up of more than 70% collagen, so it is a key in recreating biomimetic models and realistic human tissue.

Many of the world’s largest manufacturers of hygiene products work closely with Cellink’s researchers on skin and hair models.

“Just now we are collaborating with a company who have successfully cloned human collagen that they now produce in tobacco plants. This is absolutely revolutionary for all women in the world who have had breast cancer or for some reason need to reconstruct their breasts. Approximately 2.5 million breast surgeries are performed worldwide each year,” says Cecilia.

Re-create coral reefs

So far bioprinted models have been used mainly in testing within the pharmaceutical and cosmetic industries. Nine out of ten pharmaceutical products fail in their final clinical trials because they have been tested on the wrong models. This costs billions.

“We get enquiries about collaborative partnerships several times a week. We’ve chosen around twenty key areas. We work a lot with skin as it’s subject to a lot of damage, but also cancer research. We’ve created liver cancer and can make skin cancer models to test treatments.”

They are also collaborating with a Japanese company to produce meet, as bioprinters can also print out fat and muscle. So far, they have managed to print out squares two by two centimetres.

But we don’t have to stop there. The latest news from this unicorn is a partnership which makes it possible to re-create coral reefs – and even bone.

Text: Ulrica Segersten

Image: Samuel Unéus

The text was originally published in Gothenburg Magazine 2022

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