3D Bioprinting Cartilage Into Knees

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3D Printing is now enabling better and more effective treatments for patients who suffer from knee injuries.

Dr. Darryl D’Lima and his colleagues at Scripps Clinic in Southern California are working to develop a bio-printing technology that will allow living cartilage to be printed directly into the knees of patients.

Dr. D’Lima, a physician and scientist, uses the latest technology to address many of his patient’s needs. Recently, he and colleagues, who describe Dr. D’Lima as a person who “Thinks outside the box,” have been working to develop a 3D printing technology to print living cartilage for patients with knee injuries.

Cartilage is an important tissue that cushions the knee joints. It isn’t able to regenerate itself well and, for those who suffer from knee injuries or arthritis, the absence of cartilage causes the bones to rub against each other which causes intense pain.

Currently, the standard procedure for knee injuries involves doctors recommending patients to deal with the pain for as long as possible, until an artificial knee replacement is necessary. This surgery is an intensive procedure and is very painful. Additionally, for some patients, surgery doesn’t end the problems.

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Dr. D’Lima set out in hopes of being able to offer a better alternative, using the latest technology in 3D printing. Together with his team, Dr. D’ Lima is working to successfully bioprint living cartilage directly into patient’s knees. The process, he describes, is similar to “Filling potholes” in that the missing cartilage would be replaced in places where there are defects. The advantages would be outstanding. With the ability to print into the already existing knee joint, the fit would be near perfect.

“It would automatically fill the defect as you’re printing it. You’re getting a fairly good mechanical integration into the tissue, which is very difficult for us to do when we do traditional transplants,” said Dr. D’Lima.

Dr. D’Lima and his team’s research has received recognition from various institutes, including the California’s stem cell agency, the California Institute for Regenerative Medicine, which awarded him $3.1 million for research.

Dr. D’Lima estimates that it will take a couple of years to produce a working model of his 3D bioprinter.

While “bioprinting” technology is still fairly recent, 3D printing has made major advancements in the past few years. With researchers around the world continuing the development of this technology, it’s possible that bioprinting could be used in hospitals within a few decades.

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