#BioHackNH: Right Place, Right Time

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Testing in action.

It’s pretty exciting when you’re in the right place at the right time. That is exactly how Alex Williams, a University of New Hampshire at Manchester (UNHM) Bio-tech major, felt when he attended the first BioHackNH this month at UNHM.

BioHackNH, a two-day event for college students to learn more about regenerative manufacturing and how to manufacture tissue using CELLINK bioprinters, attracted students from several colleges and universities in New Hampshire. The event was hosted by UNHM, the Advanced Regenerative Manufacturing Institute (ARMI) and CELLINK.

“This regenerative manufacturing industry is popping up all around us,” Williams said. “I feel like I’m in the right place at the right time and am taking every opportunity I can.”

You may be wondering, what exactly is regenerative manufacturing and what makes it so exciting? In simple terms, it’s the engineering and growing of tissues and organs in labs. This innovative new industry has the potential to change how we approach healthcare and treat disease.

“The impact it could have on society is meaningful,” said Colby Jordan, executive director of Hitchcock Management and one of the event’s organizers who had been at UNHM earlier in the week to practice printing ears and noses. “Think about just the potential for burn victims.”

This potential is what drives Williams and his classmate, Lizz Maurais, who talked about the high number of people on kidney transplant waiting lists each year. “This could mean a lot for the world, even if it’s 20 or 30 years down the road. We want to try to make a dent in those numbers.”

Bioprinting in action.

During BioHackNH, the students were broken up into teams and given guidance by Elisabeth Rebholz and Sierra Flanagan of CELLINK, an innovative biotechnology company and first Bio-ink company in the world. Students spent the first day learning about and becoming familiar with coding, 3D modeling, testing materials, practicing with the printers and troubleshooting within teams. On the second day they were challenged to print a vascular system.

Some students came in with no coding experience. “The whole point is to do it and mess up,” coached Mary Stewart, director of education and workforce development at ARMI. “Think about what I told you. I didn’t have coding experience but I took what already existed for a nose and tried to put a wart on it. My wart ended up in the inside of the nose, so I knew I had to fix something.”

Printer materials

Students were willing to do just that. According to one student’s written reflection, one of the highlights was “learning how the code directed the printer. I never knew anything about coding or how the printers work. Now I do.”

As I lurked around the room the first day, I also felt I was in the right place at the right time. Listening to the students was an amazing experience. Students who were initially intimidated later told me they were excited to be making progress. Another shared her realization that she needs to be more aware of coding and her ideas for improving her academic program. Others made observations about the different viscosities of the materials they were testing.

Manchester Community College student Mario Pecoraro perhaps captured the feeling of the event best. “I love this,” he said. “It lights up my brain.”

In her role as the STEM Discovery Lab Coordinator, Emily supports the collaborative effort between UNH Cooperative Extension and UNH Manchester of the STEM Discovery Lab located on the Manchester campus. Emily was an English as a Second Language and English Language Learner educator for youth and adults in the greater Manchester and Seacoast areas for over 8 years and was the project assistant for the GATE CITY Project (Getting All Teachers ESOL Certified in Two Years) at UNH Manchester from 2012 to 2015. Emily earned her B.A. in international studies from The Ohio State University and her M.Ed. in secondary education from UNH Manchester. She is the mother of two active teenage boys and loves spending time outdoors.