Scientists trial hybrid 3D printer to create artificial cartilage

23 Nov 2012

Researchers have been trying out a new type of hybrid 3D printer to create artificial cartilage that could one day be implanted into patients to help re-grow cartilage in specific areas and treat sporting injuries or joint diseases.

The results of the research have been published in the Institute of Physics’ journal Biofabrication.

To make the new material, the scientists used a traditional ink printer combined with an electrospinning machine. By combining these two systems, they said it allowed them to make a structure from natural and synthetic materials to create cartilage.

According to the study, the hybrid system produced cartilage constructs with increased mechanical stability compared to those created by an ink jet printer using gel material.

The scientists said that the electrospinning machine used an electrical current to generate very fine fibres from a polymer solution.

The electrospinning process, it seems, allows for the composition of polymers to be easily controlled so that scientists could make porous structures that encourage cells to integrate into surrounding tissue.

During the study, layers of electrospun synthetic polymer were combined with a solution of cartilage cells from a rabbit ear that were deposited using the traditional ink jet printer.

The scientists tested the strength of the polymers by loading them with different weights and, after one week, tested to see if the cartilage cells were still alive.

The printed cartilage was then inserted into mice for either two, four and eight weeks. After eight weeks of implantation the scientists said that the cartilage constructs appeared to have developed the same structures and properties of real cartilage.

“This is a proof of concept study and illustrates that a combination of materials and fabrication methods generates durable implantable constructs,” said James Yoo, a professor at the Wake Forest Institute for Regenerative Medicine, and one of the authors of the paper.

In the future, the researchers believe that cartilage constructs could be made to suit a patient’s needs. One suggestion is that a MRI scan of a body part, such as the knee, could be used as a blueprint for creating the matching cartilage using the 3D printer.

X-ray concept image of the knee via Shutterstock is hosting Med Tech Focus, an initiative which over coming months will cover news, reports, interviews and videos, documenting Ireland’s leading role in one of the hottest sectors in technology.

Carmel Doyle was a long-time reporter with Silicon Republic