Jun 23, 2016 | By Alec

It can still take a few years before 3D bioprinting innovations can make an impact on the medical sector as we know it, and that’s due to material limitations. The big challenge is in finding materials that can be 3D printed into scaffolding, in which stem cells can grow and stay alive long enough to be implanted. Fortunately, several research teams are working hard to find solutions, and a team from the University of Bristol have just developed a potent new bio-ink that could be perfect for sustaining stem cell growth with an eye on 3D printed cartilage and bone implants.

This new discovery was made by a team from the School of Cellular and Molecular Medicine, led by Dr Adam Perriman, and includes James P. K. Armstrong, Madeline Burke, Benjamin M. Carter and Sean A. Davis. Their findings have also already been published in the journal of Advanced Healthcare Materials (featuring as cover story), in a paper entitled 3D Bioprinting Using a Templated Porous Bioink.

As they explain, their new stem cell-packed bio-ink is different from competing materials in a number of ways. For starters, it contains two different polymers: a natural polymer extracted from seaweed, and a sacrificial synthetic polymer that is more often used in the medical world. While the synthetic polymer causes the ink to solidify when temperatures are raised, the seaweed-based material provides the structural support that is necessary to sustain cell nutrients.

Dr. Perriman revealed that their custom formulation can be extruded by a 3D printer to form complex living 3D architectures, and will start to transform from a liquid into a gel at just 37°C. “Designing the new bio-ink was extremely challenging. You need a material that is printable, strong enough to maintain its shape when immersed in nutrients, and that is not harmful to the cells. We managed to do this, but there was a lot of trial and error before we cracked the final formulation,” he also revealed.

The lead researcher further revealed that the synthetic material is only temporarily present. “What was really astonishing for us was when the cell nutrients were introduced, the synthetic polymer was completely expelled from the 3D structure, leaving only the stem cells and the natural seaweed polymer. This, in turn, created microscopic pores in the structure, which provided more effective nutrient access for the stem cells,” he said.

What’s more, the stem cells present in the bio-ink are purposefully adapted to be used for 3D bioprinted bone and cartilage implants – which can be used in knee and hip surgeries, for instance. That has been realized by differentiating the stem cells into osteoblasts and chondrocytes; cells that secretes bone and cartilage matrixes, respectively. Over a period of several weeks, these materials grow into full-sized cartilage or bone structures that can be implanted. While the researchers didn’t reveal any details about 3D printed implant development plans, this new bio-ink is certainly a step in the right direction.



Posted in 3D Printing Application



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