The developments of bio-printing are possibly the most fascinating of all 3D printing developments. In the last few years, medical science has used 3D printers to create 3D-photografting technology and we are close to 3D printing actual human organs. 3D printing also found its use in creating custom prosthetics that improve the quality of life for a price that can actually be paid.
Now there is something new. The scientists at the Wake Forest Institute for Regenerative Medicine (WFIRM) have recently made advances in simplifying the printing process for creating implantable cartilage-constructs that could be used to help re-grow damaged cartilage in areas such as joints. The WFIRM scientists used a hybrid 3D printer which is a combination of an inkjet printer and an electro spinning machine.
The combination of these two technologies is the key to creating cartilage-constructs as it combines both synthetic (for strength) and natural (gel used to promote healthy cell growth) materials. The scientists used the electrospinning machine to generate an electrical current through polymer solution to create very fine fibers. The process allows the scientists to control the composition of the polymers, which coalesce into porous structures and allows the cells to integrate into the surrounding tissue.
“This is a proof of concept study and illustrates that a combination of materials and fabrication methods generates durable implantable constructs,” said James Yoo, M.D., Ph.D., Professor at the Wake Forest Institute for Regenerative Medicine, and an author on the study. “Other methods of fabrication, such as robotic systems, are currently being developed to further improve the production of implantable tissue constructs.”
Applying it in practice
Combined with a solution of healthy rabbit ear cells, the scientists tested their findings using layered flexible mats of electro spun polymer. These were deposited using the hybrid 3D printer. The constructs resulting out of the printing sessions were then stress-tested, they were found to be robust and still alive after one week of testing using variable weights. To see how these constructs would function/react in a living system, they were introduced into living mice in a controlled environment. All developments were analyzed for two, four and eight weeks. After eight weeks the constructs developed the structures and properties of that of elastic cartilage. This is very promising for use in human patients.