Athletes, the elderly and others who are prone to injuries or who suffer from arthritis can lose cartilage and experience a lot of pain. According to researchers, there is now a way to produce cartilage tissue by 3D bioprinting and ink containing human cells, and they have successfully tested it in an in vitro mouse model. This incredible discovery could one day lead to precisely printed implants to heal damaged noses, ears, and knees.
The researchers presented their work at the 251st National Meeting and Exposition of the American Chemical Society (ACS). ACS is the world’s largest scientific society. The meeting featured over 12,500 presentations on different topics of science. “Three dimensional bioprinting is a disruptive technology and is expected to revolutionize tissue engineering and regenerative medicine, “ says Paul Gatenholm, Ph.D. “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 3D printer and a bio ink made out of a patient’s own cells.”
The team of researchers from Wallenberg Wood Science Center in Sweden have successfully 3D printed cartilage tissue by developing an ink containing human cells. Previously, printed materials with human cells would collapse, so they had to develop an ink containing living human cells that would be able to keep its shape after printing. The team turned to plants to give them an answer. Using polysaccharides from brown algae and cellulose fibrils from wood, the mixture still kept its shape. In order to create an ink that could hold its shape after being printed, the researchers mixed used human chondrocytes in, which are cells that build up cartilage. Once 3D printed, the ink was not only able to hold its shape, but the printed cells were also able to produce cartilage in a laboratory dish. “But under in vitro conditions, we have to change the nutrient-filled liquid that the material sits in every other day and add growth factors,” Gatenholm says. “It’s a very artificial environment.”
Cartilage is the part of the human body that does not regenerate well on its own, since it doesn’t have a blood supply. The science of fabricating biological material with 3D printing (bioprinting) is increasingly looking like an excellent option for restoring damaged cartilage. Gatenholm says further preclinical work needs to be done before moving on to human trials. To ensure the most direct route, he is working with a plastic surgeon to anticipate and address practical and regulatory issues.