3D Printing Cartilage

Cartilage can be found in a variety of parts of the human body.  Our ears, rib cage, spine and, most importantly, joints all contain cartilage. Unlike other connective tissues found in the body, cartilage doesn’t contain blood vessels and therefore it doesn’t heal nearly as quickly as other tissues.

James Yoo, a professor at the Wake Forest Institute for Regenerative Medicine, has recently developed a technique for 3D printing cartilage that may sidestep the long recovery times associated with cartilage damage.

In an article published in the journal Biofabrication, Prof. Yoo outlines his technique for 3D printing cartilage that combines an ink-jet printer and an electrospinning machine.

According to Wikipedia, electrospinning works like this, “When a sufficiently high voltage is applied to a liquid droplet, the body of the liquid becomes charged, and electrostatic repulsion counteracts the surface tension and the droplet is stretched; at a critical point a stream of liquid erupts from the surface.”

In Prof. Yoo’s study, this electrospinning technique was used to create a polymer structure porous enough to “encourage cells to integrate into surrounding tissue.”  After the polymer was created, it was combined with cartilage derived from a rabbit ear and extruded by an ink-jet printing head.  

The “constructs” produced using Prof. Yoo’s method were then inserted into mice to determine whether or not the structures would display the properties usually associated with elastic cartilage. After an eight week trial, it does appear as though the experiment was a success.

Dr. Yoo does admit that this technology is a ways from being available for replacing human cartilage. “This is a proof of concept study and illustrates that a combination of materials and fabrication methods generates durable implantable constructs… Other methods of fabrication, such as robotic systems, are currently being developed to further improve the production of implantable tissue constructs.”

Still, some researchers believe that in the future MRI machines could combine with Prof. Yoo’s technology to create accurate and functional cartilage replacements suitable for use in the human body.

Read More at the Institute for Physics

Images Courtesy of Wikipedia