‘People often just wait for the next technology, rather than invent it’

9 Jan 2019

Dr Emmanuel G Reynaud, assistant professor of integrative biology at UCD. Image: UCD

Dr Emmanuel G Reynaud of UCD has helped develop a 3D bioprinter to print tissue models, which he hopes will provide better tests for a range of diseases.

Prior to joining University College Dublin (UCD) in 2009, Dr Emmanuel G Reynaud was a postdoctoral fellow and researcher at the European Molecular Biology Laboratory (EMBL), Europe’s flagship laboratory for life sciences.

For more than two years he developed and coordinated the Tara Oceans Marine Biology Imaging platform. After joining UCD, he was appointed as a lecturer in integrative biology at the School of Biomolecular and Biomedical Science.

He has authored more than 80 peer-reviewed articles in English and in French – including articles in Science and Nature Methods – and has edited and illustrated several books.

What inspired you to become a researcher?

Raised in a rural farmland location, I met nature full-on and I was a curious boy trying to understand how things work, ranging from tractors to animals, to collecting bones and plants. I spent a lot of my time reading encyclopaedias and trying to apply what I read to the world around me.

Can you tell us about the research you’re currently working on?

I wanted to work in cell biology, but the 2D models were not able to do what I wanted. So, after I completed my PhD, I spent a couple of years in France, but took a leap and went to EMBL in Germany to learn more about engineering, enabling me to build and establish new systems.

There, I developed micropatterning techniques in 2D to dissect cells, and then I moved on to 3D and worked on light sheet microscopy to image large tissues and organisms. However, I was still lacking the tissue model, so at UCD I partnered with Prof Brian Rodriguez of the UCD School of Physics and we built a 3D bioprinter that could do what we wanted.

We have now developed Naiad, a 3D bioprinter prototype, with the support of UCD’s technology transfer team at NovaUCD and it is currently subject to a patent application.

In your opinion, why is your research important?

Currently, 95pc of promising drugs do not make it to market, costing an astonishing $5bn per drug, making it extremely inefficient. We need to make better drug screening systems; that requires better tissue models, which our 3D bioprinter can provide, in order to develop drugs and to sort them faster and better. We need to be predictive, not just guessing.

What commercial applications do you foresee for your research?

We believe our unique Naiad 3D bioprinter technology – which uses a fluid phase to modify at any given time any physical, chemical or biological parameters – will enable researchers to create real, complex physiological conditions to print predictive tissue models.

This will give them the power to question tissue biology in health and in diseases to provide better tests and better cures. Maybe one day Naiad 3D bioprinters can be used daily for surgical healing purposes.

What are some of the biggest challenges you face as a researcher in your field?

People often stay in a status quo situation and just wait for the next technology, rather than explore and invent a new and improved technology. And so, they work with inferior or outdated models or half-cooked recipes, providing pharma and the wider world with poor results – and they think that is just the way it is!

Are there any common misconceptions about this area of research?

Yes – unfortunately, people think that we are so smart that we know how to make a tissue by squirting cells and hydrogels together, but we don’t. You cannot print a tissue if you do not know what the tissue – which contains thousands of components – looks like.

What are some of the areas of research you’d like to see tackled in the years ahead?

Tissue printing and training to improve grafting and organ transplants, along with well-targeted drugs without side effects.

Are you a researcher with an interesting project to share? Let us know by emailing editorial@siliconrepublic.com with the subject line ‘Science Uncovered’.