By Anna Toth
Assistant professor of chemical and biomedical engineering Moo-Yeal Lee was recently named a stage-two winner of the United States Environmental Protection Agency’s Transform Toxicity Testing Challenge.
The Toxicity Testing Challenge was created by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (E.P.A.) with the hope of making it easier to tell how different chemicals effect humans. Lee explains that humans — intentionally or unintentionally — take in a lot of toxins in their everyday lives.
“The toxic effect of these chemicals on humans is often ignored and very difficult to assess.” Lee said.
Lee’s research used 3D bioprinting technology to print drug metabolizing enzymes and combine them with human cells — in this case, human liver cells — to see the effects in real time.
Using 3D printing was an obvious choice for Lee, since he’s been working with the technology since 2002 when the technology was first being introduced.
“Ever since then I’ve been really fascinated on micro bioprinting human and animal cells,” Lee said.
His proposal for the Toxicity Testing Challenge involved furthering what 3D printing could do by developing microarray 3D bioprinting, or a high-precision way to replicate human cells outside of the body. This could make toxicity testing more accurate in the future.
“These human cells are on the surface of dishes,” Lee explains, describing the use of 2D cell dishes in toxicity testing. “These lose scientific properties, so the data is not predictive to the toxicities obtained from the human.”
After Lee submitted a research proposal in 2016, the E.P.A. named him a first stage winner and allowed him to continue his research for the challenge. Lee — along with Cleveland State graduate students — helped carry out the experiment to submit for the toxicity challenge.
Lee’s research named him a second stage winner of the Toxicity Testing Challenge. Winning the challenge came with a $100,000 prize, which Lee used to start his own company — Bioprinting Laboratory —so he can further develop his research and make it available to the public.
The hope is that they can continue to create human tissues outside of the human body and test them against different types of drugs to see the effects and responses. This can be a life changing development in prescribing drugs to patient, especially therapeutic drugs.
“We can provide the information to physicians so they can prescribe the right combination of drugs to the patients,” Lee said.
While Lee has been working on this research for a long time and is planning expand the technology in the future, he acknowledges the important role of the graduate students that worked with him on his research.
“I want to honor the award to my students,” Lee said. “Without them we couldn’t achieve these outcomes.”