Scientists at the Wake Forest Institute of Regenerative Medicine have developed a technique to 3D print cartilage that can be implanted in to the body, without being rejected.
The method combines two off-the-shelf and low-cost technologies – electrospinning, a method of creating synthetic polymer-based nano fiber materials, and bioprinting, currently used to create tissues and organs.
On their own electrospun materials don’t promote cellular growth, nor at they flexible enough to mimic the movement of real cartilage, and brioprinted materials aren’t usually strong enough support the loads cartilage carries. But by merging the two systems together, the team realized they could solve those problems.
The new technique prints alternating layers of electrospun fiber and living cells cultivated form rabbit ears. The result is an artificial cartilage pad that is suitable for implanting.
In the eight-week study, the mice developed living cells around the artificial pad, and tests showed the mechanical strength to be equivalent to natural cartilage.
Damaged cartilage takes a long time to heal, and has almost no ability to regenerate itself. Such an injury can often lead to joint replacement surgery from which most people ever fully regain strength and dexterity.
However the new procedure could provide a way for scientist to 3D print human cartilage and implant it using less invasive, and less invasive procedure. The researchers believe that MRI can be utilized to provide precise guides printing implants specifically tailored to the patient’s body.
While the research may be some years away from being perfected, the team hopes that it will day help many recover from joint injuries faster and more effectively.