Jul 7, 2016 | By Benedict

American Process Inc., a renewable materials specialist based in Atlanta, Georgia, has entered into a Joint Development Agreement with Swansea University Medical School, Wales, UK, to develop 3D printed tissue cartilage, made from human cells and nanocellulose, for use in facial reconstruction.

The 3D printing of human cells represents one of the most exciting areas of potential for additive manufacturing. By using the precise, digitally controlled deposition process of 3D printing to create artificial tissue, scientists are already well on the way to creating 3D printed human organs, a feat which could someday save countless lives. But while 3D printed livers, kidneys, and other complex organs might take several decades to perfect, researchers are more optimistic about the immediate possibilities for simpler structures such as 3D printed facial implants—printed tissue cartilage which could replace missing parts of a patient’s ears or nose following trauma or cancer.

Having recently put pen to paper on a JDA to develop 3D printed cartilage for facial reconstruction, American Process Inc. and the Medical School of Swansea University are now well placed to advance this important area of medical 3D printing. Funded by a UK Medical Research Council award granted to Swansea’s Reconstructive Surgery and Regenerative Medicine (ReconRegen) Research Group, the project will involve 3D printing human cells, using various formulations of nanocellulose as a scaffold material, in order to create tissues for advanced reconstructive surgery.

By harnessing 3D printing technology, American Process Inc. and Swansea University Medical School hope to create fully patient-specific, anatomically shaped tissues that can function as a more durable and biocompatible alternative to plastic or titanium implants. As well as being printed to fit the exact shape and size of a patient’s face, the 3D printed tissue cartilage will need to be durable enough to survive indefinitely, as well as being able to withstand degradation in the long term, both of which represent key targets for the JDA.

“We are 3D printing living tissues, living structures, tailored to the needs of individual patients,” said Professor Iain Whitaker, project leader. “We hope that in the future, patients who have lost all or part of their ear or nose through trauma or cancer could have reconstruction using new tissue which is grown from their own cells using nanocellulose. Biomaterials are a key component of our tissue printing technology and nanocellulose is our biomaterial of choice because of its biocompatibility, mechanical and structural properties that can support cell attachment and growth in three-dimensions.”

Although 3D printing with human cells works in roughly the same way as other forms of 3D printing—a substance is deposited, layer by layer, according to digital instructions issued from a computer file—human cells cannot be manipulated in the same way as, say, plastics or metal powders. To accurately print with cells, special materials or techniques are required to keep the cells in place. Accurate positioning of printed cells can be achieved by mixing the cells with more “printable” substances such as bioinks, while there are also other more experimental techniques, such as Cyfuse Medical’s “Kenzan" method, which involves 3D printing the cells onto microscopic skewers to keep them in place.

American Process Inc. and Swansea University are pursuing the “bioink” option, and have already conducted a great deal of research into the use of nanocellulose, a novel biomaterial, as a bioink. The substance has a high water holding capacity and unique particle assembly in water, factors which induce further desirable material properties. For example, nanocellulose forms shear-thinning gels which flow easily during printing but which then harden to form stable, smooth, and dense 3D structures in which cells can remain accurately positioned. According to Dr Ayesha Al-Sabah, a ReconRegen Postdoctoral Fellow, these properties make nanocellulose “ideally suited to nozzle-based 3D bioprinting”. Moreover, the substance has been shown to be non-cytotoxic to growing cells.

Images: ReconRegen

“Nanocellulose has a variety of advantages that we expect to significantly impact the growing biomedical engineering field,” commented Theodora Retsina, CEO of American Process Inc. The BioPlus nanocellulose technology being developed by American Process Inc. is being demonstrated at the company’s biorefinery in Thomaston, Georgia, where the company conducts its research and development in 3D bioprinting and other areas.

 

 

Posted in 3D Printer Company

 

 

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