Cartilage: printed and spun

cartilageDon’t you just feel like every week there’s another medical advancement (or art exhibit) made with the aid of 3D printing? Vascular systems are being printed at the University of Pennsylvania, noses are being printed at Fripp Design and Research, and there’s a host of other recent breakthroughs. Well from the lab that brought us the first printed bladder to be implanted into a human comes the brand new 3D printed cartilage.

The researchers at the Wake Forest Institute for Regenerative Medicine are still fiddling with 3D printers with the long-term goal of realizing Dr. Frankenstein’s fictitious creation. Okay, that’s probably not one of their long-term goals, but it’s going to happen. You watch. Anyway, cartilage, what sharks are made of. This is obviously no standard print job, and in fact, the end result is a hybrid — part printed and part electrospun. When only an inkjet printer was used to print a hydrogel structure it wasn’t stable enough to serve as cartilage, so this process of running an electric current through a polymer solution to create tiny fibers was employed to combine with the printed gel; the porosity of the polymer was designed to encourage the integration of living tissue. A solution of rabbit cartilage cells was printed onto layers of the synthetic polymer and the result is a biocompatible material that after 8 weeks of being implanted into rabbits appears to have developed like real cartilage.

It might not sound so major to you, but that probably means you don’t have arthritis or some other joint disease. Cartilage serves as the spacer and lubricant between bones, allowing a smooth and wide range of motion, but as most old people can and will tell you, that motion becomes restricted and painful as that cartilage wears down through use or disease; sports injuries can also damage joint cartilage. Currently treatment starts with physical therapy and altering eating habits, but more serious cases require perpetually taking medicines and/or having joint-replacement surgeries. By using MRI scans and this hybrid material it’d be much safer and less costly to do an outpatient cartilage injection where it’s needed right when symptoms appear. This is still years out though so keep your fish oil intake up and remember to do those morning stretches.

Source: Silicon Republic