Aug 7, 2018 | By Thomas

Scientists from Central Queensland University are making use of 3D bioprinting and crocodile cartilage for a new way of treating arthritis and joint injuries.

Image credit: Koorana Crocodile Farm

Head Researcher Dr Padraig Strappe said that valuable growth factors from the cartilage of crocodiles help to promote adult stem cells from fat tissue or bone marrow, to become cartilage.

Along with a team of researchers from CQ University, Dr Strappe has been working on a process that extracts growth factors from crocodile cartilage and removes proteins that trigger an immune response in humans.

Dr Padraig Strappe holds crocodile cartilage that may be used to treat joint damage in humans. (ABC Capricornia: Megan Hendry)

"That gives us a soup or a glue that might promote our own adult stem cells," Dr Stappe said. "We hope that might promote cartilage repair, which is a big challenge and becoming more so in elderly populations."

Unlike other types of tissue, cartilage does not have a blood supply. Because of this, a traumatic injury to a joint, particularly the knee, can leave a crack or a hole between a joining bone, and damaged cartilage takes much longer to heal. "You are left with a hole that needs to be filled in," said Dr Strappe.

After the croc cartilage 'soup' is added to the adult stem cells, a 3D printer is used to bio-print cartilage explants that could eventually be injected into damaged human joints to fill the hole.

"With 3D printing we can mimic that hole or that gap so potentially the orthopaedic surgeon could fill in that gap with a little cartilage explant to repair the joint," said Dr Strappe.

"What we're looking for is a long-term repair to the cartilage so people can return to work and to sport much faster and they don't have the long-term effects of inflamed joints," he added.

Dr Strappe's research was inspired from a CSIRO study from more than a decade agao that ranked the proteoglycan levels in the cartilage of a number of different species. Crocodiles were at the top of the list because a crocodile has very big articulating joints so it needs a lot of cartilage to maintain that movement. The cartilage around the rib cage of the crocodile is the most valuable part for the researchers, as it is particularly rich in proteoglycans.

A specimen jar containing cartilage from the throat area of a young crocodile. (ABC Capricornia: Megan Hendry)

A crocodile cartilage specimen. (ABC Capricornia: Megan Hendry)

The cartilage is sourced from the nearby Koorana Crocodile Farm which produces skins for export to Italian fashion houses and meat for the Australian market. The waste product for them is the cartilage. "Any croc cartilage that's left, I try to collect as fresh as I can or it can be frozen," Dr Strappe said.

With a focus on zero waste, Koorana Crocodile Farm representative said the farm's relationship with Dr Strappe was mutually beneficial.

The research team is currently focused on maintaining funding for the project and generating interest among bio-tech companies that could potentially develop and market the technology.



Posted in 3D Printing Application



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