How the Bio-Hack Adventure started!

Well, I guess it is time to start writing about the amazing bio-hack adventure which is still on-going in sunny São Paulo, while I am already back in Brussels and am writing during one of our so common rainy days.

I guess the best way to start this story is explaining what brought me to the other side of the world and especially in a FabLab!

It was a series of fortunate coincidences… On one hand, while researching for a paper we were drafting in the think-tank where I work, I came across this talk: 

 

“Printing” a human kidney.. I could not believe what I was seeing. Surgeon Atala was presenting how a human kidney (and other organs and tissues) could be reproduced in a laboratory starting from living cells and 3D imaging. I was amazed by the potential of regenerative medicine and decided to dive deep into the topic. It was like falling down the rabbit hole… I started exploring and studying the fabulous world of 3D printing, genomics and personalised medicine.

During this intense period of research, a meetup group to which I belong organized a meetup in a fablab in Brussels. I had no idea there was one and did not lose the chance to go there.. And again, I was so amazed by the potential of 3D printing. I realized this innovation could revolutionise not only the healthcare sector, but our entire society. Only after that, I actually discovered that there are several studies in this regard and, among others, I especially enjoyed reading this book: The Second Machine Age.

At this point, I was too curious to look more closely into this technology and I felt that, if I wanted to write about it, I needed some hands-on experience on the subject. The opportunity to do so did not tarry long 🙂 I received an email presenting a program that allowed few people to go to Brazil to learn what it means to be an entrepreneur in any business area. I thought this was the perfect opportunity, so I applied to the program and proposed them to work in a FabLab.

When I applied, there were very few FabLabs in Brazil and I could find the contact information only for one of them: Garagem FabLab. I contacted them and Eduardo replied to me immediately saying that they would have been happy to host me. And this is how I ended up spending 3 fabulous months at Garagem FabLab!

When I got there, Eduardo told me that there was the possibility to run a bio-hack academy at Garagem, but we were really late and needed to jump into the preparations immediately if we wanted to make it possible. I loved the idea as it was closely related to science while also covering electronics: two areas I was eager to explore. So, we got in contact with WetLab Amsterdam, told them that we wanted to be a partner lab and started immediately all the preparations.

It was not easy to find all the materials we needed. The Brazilian government has adopted a protectionist approach in the tech sector, so tariffs are so high that prevent importing any piece of electronics. We needed to “nationalise” the project (a term used a lot in the Brazilian makers’ world), that is we needed to find all electronics and chemicals within Brazil. It was an intense research, but with positive results!

The course was fully booked and the group of participants was very special: from Eduardo and Giovanna (two high school students already actively involved in lab research for São Paulo university) to Otto (a splendid experienced bio-hacker)! Each of the participants had a specific knowledge which resulted in a powerful synergy!

So, this is how the Bio-Hack Academy São Paulo started! In the following posts, I will write about my experience of “accompanying” the course until I left Brazil last week. I did not have the chance to build my own machines as I was so busy supporting the course logistically, but I think that documenting my experience is nevertheless worth for those that want to start their own bio-hack academy! And I also hope to make a machine here in Brussels and document my work as well 🙂

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