April 24, 2013
US scientists at Cornell University have created an artificial ear using 3D printing technology and living cells. The ear looks and behaves like a real ear and offers hope to children born with ear deformities. At the New York Inside 3D printing expo Dr. Lawrence J. Bonasser at Cornell University talked about his newest project: 3D printing spinal discs.
Over 30 million Americans are suffering from lower back pain which is caused by intervertebral disc (IVD) degeneration. Current treatment options are limited and surgical intervention can cause further degradation of the adjacent discs and loss of range of motion. Because of these constraints, researchers have been working on artificial discs hoping to replace damaged discs. But Dr. Bonasser's team is taking a step further.
Imagine during the surgery, a 3D printer is used to print strings of stem cells onto highly specific portions of a patient's spinal disc. Once the surgery is over, "the stem cells begin to enact their pre-designated "biological programming" and populate themselves as brand new spinal disc tissues." After some weeks, the patient gets a well repaired spine.
Dr Bonasser said they have tested the operation on over 100 rats and that was the most advanced and expensive operation ever performed on rats. And once those spinal discs have been regenerated, the rats have regained the full mobility in its entire life.
Furthermore, Dr. Bonasser's lab is also working on printing entirely new spinal discs for each patient. Instead of removing damaged spinal discs and fusing the vertebrate bones to stabilize the spine, the artificial discs and disc repair could perform better than current implants that are often made from a combination of metal and plastic.
Below is a photo of tissue-engineered intervertebral disc (right) and the native disc it is meant to replace (left). According to the lab, "these implants have been successfully used to replace discs in the spine of rats. Unlike conventional medical implants, these engineered tissues integrate biologically with the surrounding vertebrae and their mechanical performance improves with time."
Because the new discs integrate and mature with the vertebrae, this kind of surgery would also become safer with less long-term side effects.
Posted in 3D Printing Technology
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