Appleton Woods Ltd have partnered with Copner Biotech to offer their innovative 3D PETG cell culture scaffolds. The patented Copner scaffolds have been designed in such a way that enhances cell capture and adhesion, as well as encouraging the growth of balanced, confluent cell systems. Mammalian cells grown on Copner Biotech’s 3D PETG scaffolds have been shown to exhibit more physiologically relevant morphologies when compared to 2D cell culture.
Our team were lucky enough to visit the picturesque town of Ebbw Vale, in Wales, to tour Copner Biotech’s facilities and witness their bespoke 3D modelling software and additive manufacturing process in action. Similar to Appleton Woods’ own roots, Copner Biotech is a family run business headed by founder and CEO Jordan Copner. They’ve even recently won the prestigious ‘Innovation Start-up’ Award from MediWales! We were excited to ask Jordan a few questions to learn more about the scaffolds and how they’re made…
What made you want to start this company?
Jordan: I’ve been working in and around the field of biotechnology and have been wanting to push the frontier of science in a commercial aspect. I’ve always had an interest in new technologies, especially bioprinting, and quite quickly realised a gap in the market. Also when COVID hit, I had plenty of time at home to develop my ideas, so there was perfect fertile ground to start something I’ve always wanted to do anyway.
What is your academic background prior to starting the company?
Jordan: I did four years in Cardiff in Biochemistry, one of those was a professional training year working on lysosomal storage disorders, so Niemann-Pick disease and working on new therapeutics. Disease modelling is when I first got into 3D cell culture. I also did two summer placements whilst at Uni. It was fun because I’ve always wanted to be in the lab. When I first saw a cell culture lab I didn’t want to leave!
What inspired you to create these 3D scaffolds?
Jordan: When I was looking at scaffolds in my first year as a researcher, there were only standard lattice designs. It didn’t matter if you had the steadiest hand in the world and got the same cell seeding every time, the cells would randomly distribute and form random pockets. This wasn’t physiologically relevant at all. So I thought about how to use similar technology to finetune the design. I’ve always thought about oxygen and nutrient gradients and whether there was a way to impose these. One day I thought about the idea of concentric circles and altering the pore sizes/distribution so there’s less competition on the outside, so cells naturally emanate toward the periphery. Then I went to my dad to talk software and to check if this can be done, if it was even physically possible, because no-one’s done it yet! That’s when we realized the gap in the market.
What applications could the scaffolds be used for?
Jordan: Simple cultures, co-cultures, spheroid development. One thing we didn’t appreciate with the design of the scaffold itself, with the concentric circles, was the natural capillarity effect inside the scaffold. With standard lattice scaffolds, when you take them out of cell culture you’ll generally see all the medium run out of them. But with ours, when you take them out, you’ve still got all the liquid in there. So in this ultra-low attachment environment and high cell seeding numbers, there’s nowhere for the cells to stick onto so they stick onto each other to make spheroids. This is something we’ve come across in our project with Swansea University.
Have you worked with any other universities?
Jordan: Yes, quite a few such as Leicester, King’s College, Bath, Cardiff and Sussex. We also sent some scaffolds for free to Ukrainian Masters and PhD students who moved to the UK in the first few months of the war.
Can you explain your scaffold manufacturing process and why there is no batch-to-batch variation?
Jordan: The 3D printers we use are high end with automated processes. There’s a lot of sensors involved to help control the process. There’s also a controlled environment as the printer is closed and has HEPA filters to get rid of the nasty stuff.
As well as that, the software that we use has more of an atomic approach to printing. With most 3D printers you press ‘go’ and they’re running the whole time, very fast, with constant material extrusion. There’s lots of tiny bits of plastic on the item that you have to cut off afterwards.
Our process is more methodical, it will print a circle, stop, then print another circle. This step-by-step process lets the scaffolds have time to set nicely before building another layer. This approach is really important for consistency across batches.
We also print our scaffolds onto paper that dissolves in water, this way there’s no interference when removing it from the scaffolds and there’s also no waste!
How has it been working with your dad in the software aspect of the business?
Jordan: It’s going pretty well, when I was in previous roles I worked in teams of 20 people and we’d never get done the amount of work that me and dad could do.
Alan Copner, CTO: It’s very dynamic. I’ve done consulting for 35 years, then was looking at retirement. The timing was right for me to team up with Jordan on his biotechnology venture and this world is quite interesting. I’m not finding it like work anymore, the day is filled with interesting things to do.
What are some of the advantages to our customers in choosing Copner Biotech’s scaffolds over other alternatives?
Jordan: Cost is a big advantage, our scaffolds are probably one of the most cost effective on the market. There’s batch-to-batch consistency – each scaffold is the same every time. We take that worry away from the customer. There’s no gel work or unnecessary steps. Customers know they can take the product out of the packaging, simply sterilise it and it’s ready to go!
The storage saving aspect is also a huge benefit to customers. The surface area of 3 scaffolds is similar to that of a T75 flask! As our scaffolds are sold in packs of 12, stored in a 24-well plate, they really don’t take up much space.
Where do you see both yourself and the company in the next few years?
Jordan: Ideally the market leader in bioprinting technology! We have a completely novel way of modelling and deposition. The way these printers work, the science behind it, far outstrips what’s currently out there. One of our goals is to become a centre of excellence for bioprinting in Wales. The UK and Welsh government are fully behind us and Welsh universities are excited to collaborate with us. Our bioprinting programme is growing all the time, we’re constantly working on bioprinting devices and getting that to market. We’re also hoping to expand our team and branch out to Europe this year or the next.