May 2, 2017 | By Benedict

Researchers at Sahlgrenska Academy and the Chalmers University of Technology in Sweden have used 3D bioprinting to create human cartilage in a test tube—without the use of animal testing. They say that the 3D bioprinted structures look “extremely similar” to human cartilage.

Back during the tail-end of March, we reported on some amazing 3D bioprinting work being carried out in Sweden. There, in the city of Gothenburg, researchers from Sahlgrenska Academy and the Chalmers University of Technology had used a CELLINK INKREDIBLE bioprinter to print structures made from human cartilage cells—on the backs of live mice.

Once implanted onto the mice, these bioprinted cartilage cells showed signs of growth. Paul Gatenholm, a professor of biopolymer technology at Chalmers, called it “the first time anyone has printed human-derived cartilage cells, implanted them in an animal model, and induced them to grow.”

Now, a new group of Sahlgrenska and Chalmers researchers (containing many of those involved with the earlier bioprinting research) have developed 3D bioprinted cartilage, but without the need for mice.

The Sweden-based team says it has been able to influence its printed cells to multiply and differentiate to form chondrocytes (cartilage cells), adding that expert surgeons saw no difference between the bioprinted cartilage and real human cartilage.

Associate Professor Stina Simonsson led the 3D bioprinting research

“We’re the first to succeed with [the test tube-based differentiation of stem cells into cartilage], and we did so without any animal testing whatsoever,” commented Stina Simonsson, Associate Professor of Cell Biology, who led the research.

Simonsson and her team have devoted around three years’ work to the project, and recently published their findings in the journal Scientific Reports.

According to the researchers, finding a way to make the cells survive, differentiate, and form cartilage was no mean feat. “We investigated various methods and combined different growth factors,” Simonsson said. “Each individual stem cell is encased in nanocellulose, which allows it to survive the process of being printed into a 3D structure. We also harvested mediums from other cells that contain the signals that stem cells use to communicate with each other so called conditioned medium.”

In the end, the Gothenburg-based researchers realized that they would have to “trick” the cells “into thinking that they aren’t alone.” This ultimately caused the cells to multiply before they were differentiated.

According to the team, the cartilage formed by the stem cells in the 3D bioprinted structure is actually extremely similar to human cartilage. Experienced surgeons saw little difference between the bioprinted cartilage and real cartilage, both of which contain Type II collagen, leading the researchers to believe that their work may prove incredibly important in the wider field of bioprinting and biomedicine.

Earlier cartilage-printing efforts at Chalmers and Sahlgrenska Academy involved the use of live mice

In particular, the researchers say that their new bioprinted tissue could be used to repair cartilage damage or treat osteoarthritis, a condition in which joint cartilage degenerates and breaks down.

Unfortunately, there are still a few serious obstacles to overcome before the researchers can consider the possibility of implanting their bioprinted cartilage tissue into human patients. “The structure of the cellulose we used might not be optimal for use in the human body,” Simonsson admitted. “Before we begin to explore the possibility of incorporating the use of 3D bioprinted cartilage into the surgical treatment of patients, we need to find another material that can be broken down and absorbed by the body so that only the endogenous cartilage remains.”

“The most important thing for use in a clinical setting is safety,” Simonsson added.

 

 

Posted in 3D Printing Application

 

 

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