Apr. 30, 2015 | By Alec

It looks like 3D printed medical applications are spreading to every corner of academic hospitals, and I’m not just talking about 3D printed implants or prostheses. For now Dutch scientists from the University Medical Center Utrecht have unveiled their own 3D bioprinting innovation: a hydrogel solution that can be used for repairing bone cartilage on a large scale.

As they revealed, an international team of researchers coordinated by associate professor Jos Malda have completed a series of tests in which 3D printed structures are used to significantly enhance and support the regeneration of bone cartilage cells. In that process, researchers relied on specific polymers called hydrogels. Their most important characteristic is their ability to retain large amounts of moisture, making it a perfect carrier substance for cells used in regenerative treatment. In fact, they are typically already used as support material for cell therapy on a small scale.

However, this new approach saw scientists transform this cell therapy approach to larger surface. Key is the 3D printing of miniscule networks of thin fibers that can strengthen and sustain those hydrogels for larger surfaces. Those networks, in fact, have similar properties to the actual cartilage in the joints. ‘At this moment cell therapy is already successfully applied in a number of Dutch hospitals to repair damage to cartilage’, Malda explained. ‘But there are limitations to the shape and size of the cartilage defect that you can fix with it. Our reinforced hydrogels are firmer and more elastic than most cell carriers and with this we can eventually perhaps restore larger parts of a joint.’

Malda further speculated that 3D printing technology could be used to specifically shape the form and content to match the damage and contours of a patient’s joint. ‘With this approach, we might be able to repair larger parts of a joint, such as in the knee or hip, in the near future than we can today,’ he added. ‘Moreover, 3D printing enables us to replicate the original shape of the joints.’

Results of this study were recently published in the journal Nature Communications, and has been made possible by a collaboration between the University of Wurzburg, the Queensland University of Technology and funding from the European Union and the Arthritis Foundation. While this project is still ongoing, its scientists are currently researching the repair of large joint surfaces using this 3D printing approach. Especially interesting is whether or not the repaired cartilage can match the quality of naturally formed structures.

However, much more is planned as part of this innovating 3D bioprinting project. Among others, The University of Utrecht is set to launch a specialized master’s program on Biofabrication in the fall of 2015, while a congress on the same topic is set to be held in November 2015. If one thing is certain about 3D bioprinting, it’s that we will have to keep an eye on Utrecht. 

 

Posted in 3D Printing Applications

 

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k wrote at 5/1/2015 4:08:25 AM:

Please include link to the published article.



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