Cartilage is a flexible biological tissue that provides padding where bones come together in a joint. A new method for 3D printing cartilage is being proposed as a method for treating osteoarthritis, a disease marked by its gradual disintegration of cartilage. In the past, several different methods for 3D printing cartilage and other human tissues have been studied and tested but many of the most promising ones require UV light to cure the bioink, however the UV light itself can be harmful to living cells.
Citing the Federation of American Societies for Experimental Biology, NanoWerk has highlighted research into a new method for 3D printing cartilage developed by Rocky Tuan, Ph.D., director of the Center for Cellular and Molecular Engineering at the University of Pittsburgh School of Medicine, member of the American Association of Anatomists and the study’s senior investigator. In contrast to the use of UV light, Dr. Tuan’s method for 3D printing utilises visible light and thus represents a significant step forward in developing a potential cure for a disease that affects up to 50% of the global population over 60 years of age, causing severe pain and loss of mobility in joints.
“Osteoarthritis has a severe impact on quality of life, and there is an urgent need to understand the origin of the disease and develop effective treatments,” said Dr. Tuan. “We hope that the methods we’re developing will really make a difference, both in the study of the disease and, ultimately, in treatments for people with cartilage degeneration or joint injuries.”
Creating artificial human tissues such as cartilage requires three main elements and in simple terms these are: stem cells (cells that can develop into any type of tissue) from the patient, biological factors that activate the cells to grow into the specific types of tissue (in this case cartilage), and a scaffold made of biocompatible or biological materials to give the tissue its required shape.
Tuan’s approach achieves the scaffolding by extruding thin layers of stem cells embedded in a solution that retains its shape. The solution also provides the necessary growth factors to speed up the development process and thus allows scientists to envision a tool they can thread through a catheter to print new cartilage right where it is needed and could one day be used to treat battlefield injuries and other cartilage damage more rapidly and less intrusively.
3D bioprinting is also proving extremely useful for other aspects of Dr. Tuan’s research. In another cartilage related study he and his team have have developed a “tissue-on-a-chip” replica of the bone-cartilage interface. What this means is that they were able to replicate human tissue in 96 blocks, 4 millimeters across by 8 millimeters deep and will use this “biochip” to further investigate and learn how osteoarthritis develops – something that is still very unclear – and test new drugs.
The final step in Dr. Tuan’s study will be to combine the 3D biopriniting method with a “nano fiber spinning technique” to create new and more robust scaffolds that allow them to create artificial cartilage that even more closely resembles the natural tissue. It may seem like the stuff of science fiction but we have seen how rapidly bioprinting is advancing.
Bioprinting itself, as well as bioscaffolding, and artificial stem cell growth are now almost familiar terms and scientists are getting more and more comfortable with the idea of producing artificial human tissue. I am particularly interested in finding out if artificial cartilage will help with my herniated disks as well. As soon as I find out I will be sure to tell all about it.