Mar 16, 2016 | By Kira

A team of Swedish researchers has made a breakthrough in 3D bioprinting cartilage tissue that is made from human cells and can keep its shape after printing. Having successfully tested this 3D printed cartilage in an in vivo mouse, they are now setting their sets on how it can one day be used to create precisely 3D bioprinted implants to heal human noses, ears, and knees.

Cartilage is the firm, flexible connective tissue found between our bones and joints, as well as in our ears, noses, and respiratory tract. The loss or damage of cartilage, either due to an accident, arthritis, or a sports injury, can be excruciatingly painful, causing severe inflammation, stiffened joints, and loss of motion. Because cartilage cannot heal on its own, surgical intervention is often required to repair and replace the cartilage, or in the worst case, the entire joint.

Advances in 3D bioprinting however could soon change that. While there has been a lot of attention given to 3D bioprinted organs, the extremely complex structures of our kidneys, livers and hearts has significantly slowed scientist’s ability to 3D print them. In comparison, 3D printing cartilage is relatively simple, as it does not involve blood vessels or other complex structures, yet still serves a vital role in our bodies’ function. 

The research, led by Paul Gatenholm, PhD at the Wallenberg Wood Science Center in Sweden, is centered on a novel CELLINK bioink formula containing living human cells. The 3D bioprinting itself was performed with an INKREDIBLE 3D bioprinter, one of the most affordable 3D bioprinters on the market today, and also developed in Sweden. "The 3D bioprinter is a robotic arm able to move in the X,Y,Z directions with a resolution of 10μm while dispensing a bioink and positioning several cell types and thus can reconstruct the architecture of complex organs," wrote the researchers.

Whereas previous bioinks would simply collapse after the 3D printing process, this new bioink, made from a mixture of polysaccharides from brown algae, tiny cellulose fibrils from wood or made by bacteria, as well as human chondrocytes (the cells that build up cartilage), can maintain its shape. The researchers are thus able to 3D print the cartilage cells into specific architectures, such as that of an ear or nose.

Initially, they performed the tests in vitro, where they were able to frequently change the nutrient-filled liquid that the cartilage sits in and add new growth factors. However, this artificial environment is far removed from the actual human body, and they decided it was time to move from the petri dish to a living system.

Cartilage tissue samples were thus 3D bioprinted and carefully placed in living mice. To the great delight of Gatenholm and his team, not only did the bioprinted cells survive and produce cartilage, but preliminary data over 60 days showed that by adding human stem cells from bone marrow, they could actually boost growth and further encourage chondrocyte and cartilage production.

Though further preclinical work is required before they can move onto human trials, this is an extremely promising breakthrough in 3D bioprinting as well as in artificial cartilage production. Gatenholm is already working with a plastic surgeon in order to anticipate and address practical and regulatory issues to ensure that one day, this 3D bioprinted cartilage can be used to replace noses, ears, and to repair damaged knee joints or other body parts.

Gatenholm’s team is reportedly also working with a cosmetic company to develop 3D bioprinted human skin, which can be used for cosmetics or drug testing in place of animals. Most recently, French startup Poietis has been making significant advances in this area.

"Three-dimensional bioprinting is a disruptive technology and is expected to revolutionize tissue engineering and regenerative medicine," said Gatenholm. "Our team's interest is in working with plastic surgeons to create cartilage to repair damage from injuries or cancer. We work with the ear and the nose, which are parts of the body that surgeons today have a hard time repairing. But hopefully, they'll one day be able to fix them with a 3-D printer and a bioink made out of a patient's own cells."

The research on 3D bioprinted cartilage is to be presented at the 251st National Meeting & Exposition of the American Chemical Society (ACS), the world’s largest scientific society, where more than 12,5000 presentations on a wide range of science topics are being held.

Gatenholm and his team are certainly not the first to explore 3D bioprinted cartilage or other living cells. Recently, a 3D bioprinter was used to create transplantable human ear, muscles, and bone tissue, and a UK hospital expects to use 3D bioprinted noses and ears on humans in the next 3-4 years.



Posted in 3D Printing Application



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I. A. M. Magic wrote at 3/16/2016 5:12:00 PM:


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