The cutting edge on which Enochs High School science students work just got sharper with the addition of a 3-D bioprinter.
The printer joins a collection of other high-tech scientific equipment used by those in teacher Dave Menshew's Forensic Biotechnology Program, which is a California Department of Education Career Pathway academy.
"There are 3-D printers out there, but 3-D bioprinters are pretty rare at this point," Menshew said, "and at a high school level, it's very difficult to find them there.”
Enochs is the first and only high school in the Central Valley to partner with the bioprinter's maker, SE3D Corp. of Santa Clara. SE3D has three other bioprinters in schools — one in Monterey and two in the San Francisco Bay Area, Menshew said.
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In a Facebook post shared by Modesto City Schools, the teacher wrote that the printer "allows our students to add the new skills of working with biomolecules to conduct investigations including enzymatic reactions, algal growth studies, and tissue construction. Bioprinters have been used to produce hearts, kidneys, and other body parts."
According to a CNBC story early this year, bioprinting works like this: "Scientists harvest human cells from biopsies or stem cells, then allow them to multiply in a petri dish. The resulting mixture, a sort of biological ink, is fed into a 3-D printer that is programmed to arrange different cell types and materials into a three-dimensional shape. Doctors hope that when placed into the body, these 3-D printed cells will integrate with existing tissue."
Bioprinters have been used to produce hearts and kidneys, Menshew said. They also can use resins to print such things as artificial bone and prosthetics.
"We actually do have the codes (to print) ears," Menshew said. "But we want to learn to walk before we can run. And so we're going to first do everything in different kinds of liquids that aren't as expensive (as available polymers) and do a lot of trial and error. Then we'll switch over to resins. One of our goals is to actually make a Vulcan ear, to take a regular ear file and modify it to look like Spock’s ears.”
As they get to know the machine, students are using simple body lotion, mixed with food coloring to resemble algae. During a demonstration before Enochs science teachers Wednesday, they printed a three-by-three array of dots and a small bone that looked like a dog biscuit.
Student Nathan Zarate said when students begin working with actual pond scum, they will be able to conduct ecological tests on algae growth and the effects of nutrients and pollution. Using the printer is "a really cool experience that not even a lot of colleges have, let alone high schools," Zarate said, "so it's an amazing opportunity we have."
Enochs has an agreement of understanding with SE3D to develop forensic lessons using the 3-D bioprinter, Menshew said. "We would like to see the forensic testing of blood or suspected bloodstains," he said about curriculum development. "We should be able to do things like that with this device. We see it also working with other teachers on the campus. The chemistry teachers could get some tests set up with this, the biology teachers could work with algae."
The 3-D printer has a listed retail price of about $5,000, Menshew said, but Enochs got its for $3,700, funded by the Regional Occupational Program on technical education.