A ‘hack’ can be used to describe a creative and potentially improvised solution to a problem. It may not be the perfect solution, but it fixes the issue at hand. A hackathon or similar event is frequently a discovery opportunity and a way that groups work together to come up with innovative solutions. A BioHack in a larger sense, can be thought of as “do-it-yourself biology”, where you learn about biologically relevant issues by getting experience in that area. Many have referred to biohacking in a variety of ways, all with the goal of better understanding the issues being investigated and potentially coming up with innovative solutions.
BioHackNH started, as many things do, as an idea between longtime friends. Graham “Gray” Chynoweth, currently the Chief Membership Officer of the Advanced Regenerative Manufacturing Institute (ARMI), and Jeremy Hitchcock, Founder of Minim, an IoT networking and security company, have been inspiring the next generation to participate in computer hackathons in the past. Jeremy and Gray, as former CEO and COO, respectively, at DYN, had previously created the “Hackademy” at Dyn to bring students from all over NH to collaborate and create new app solutions. With the increase in interest and presence of regenerative medicine and tissue engineering in the Manchester Millyard, the idea of merging the concept of a hackademy with regenerative medicine seemed like an obvious match.
ARMI reached out to its members, and UNH and CELLINK worked together with the events sponsors to facilitate the first BioHackNH. The STEM Discovery lab at UNH Manchester housed three of CELLINK's 3D Bioprinters for a two day hands on experience. CELLINK's Bioink Officer was enthusiastic about setting up the BioHackNH, “The education effort must be started at all age and experience levels. The earlier students can get hands on experience with bioprinting, the better, as the field is rapidly growing and evolving. It is important that they have this base knowledge down that they can adapt as the field changes and grows.”
The event drew students from Keene State College, Manchester Community College, Southern New Hampshire University, WPI, and UNH that worked together in teams. The first day oriented the students to the bioprinters and how to use the software to manipulate the instructions that the bioprinter received. That in itself was an important aspect to understanding everything that goes into 3D bioprinting. As one student put it, “The most impactful parts would be when we were familiarizing ourselves with the software requirements for the bioprinter and how many different educational backgrounds are required to work with the printer and the design process.”
The second day students were presented with a challenge that currently faces the biofabrication industry; how do you provide vasculature for your tissue so that it can receive blood, and nutrients as it matures prior to transplantation? Student discussed a variety of strategies ranging from simple veins, as you see in a leaf, to a more complicated system that ensured that the flow would only go in one direction. In the end, students were able to learn firsthand how some industries are using bioprinters to solve the world’s tissue and organ needs, as well as how some of the hurdles in the industry cannot be solved in one day. “The use of the printers allowed me to see how real and possible all of the talk of regenerative medicine really is.” Perhaps they will be part of the solution process as this emerging industry grows!