Dec 13, 2017 | By Tess

Scientists from Penn State University are developing a method for 3D printing the “structural framework” of artificially grown living tissue using commercial desktop 3D printing technology. The process consists of reinforcing cell-infused hydrogel materials with supportive 3D printed fiber networks.

The fibers printed into implantable hydrogels to structure them could act, in a sense, like rebar reinforcements in cement, say the researchers. “If we can lend some structure to the gel, we can grow living cells in defined patterns and eventually the fibers will dissolve and go away,” added Justin L. Brown, an associate professor of biomedical engineering at Penn State.

Perhaps the most notable aspect of the research project, however, is that it is utilizing affordable, off-the-shelf 3D printing technology to advance 3D bioprinting.

As the researchers elaborate, their innovative technique combines desktop 3D printing technology with electrospinning technology, which is a process that uses electric force to produce nanometer-scale fibers from threads of melted polymer or polymer solutions. This combination allows for the creation of “high resolution and repeatable 3D polymer fiber patterns on nonconductive materials for tissue engineering.”

With these nanometer threaded scaffold-like patterns, the researchers have demonstrated the ability to grow cells on them and have successfully deposited the structures into cell-infused collagen hydrogel materials.

The aim of the research is to create an accessible and low cost method for producing complex human tissues with the potential for implantation.

“The overarching idea is that if we could multiplex electrospinning with a collagen gel and bioprinting, we could build large and complex tissue interfaces, such as bone to cartilage," explained Pouria Fattahi, a doctoral student in bioengineering. “Others have created these combination tissues using a microextrusion bioprinter.”

However, processes using a microextrusion bioprinter reportedly print the different tissue types separately and combine them afterwards using either an adhesive or connector. The Penn State researchers believe their 3D printed scaffold method could more closely mimic how real tissues grow together in the body.

For instance, the researchers say they could create two different types of tissue—say muscle and tendon—by simply modifying the pattern of the threaded scaffold structure in such a way that would allow for a “seamless” transition between the muscle tissue and the tendon tissue in a single print.

Of course, there is still work to be done before the 3D printed tissues are viable for implantation.

At this current stage in the research, the team is 3D printing cubic scaffold structures measuring less than one inch, though it says these have the potential to be used for creating ACL tissue, which is found in the knee. “The anterior cruciate ligament, or ACL, is only about 2 to 3 centimeters (0.8 to 1 inch) long and 1 centimeter (0.8 inches) wide," explained Fattahi.

The ongoing research project, supported by The National Institutes of Health, was recently published about in the Journal of Advanced Healthcare Materials.



Posted in 3D Printing Application



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