Scientists at Wake Forest University in North Carolina have developed a “tissue printer” that “prints” cartilage, the flexible connective tissue that cushions our bones and joints. According to the Toronto Star, the printer, which was featured in a study published in the journal Biofabrication by the Institute of Physics, is a combination of an ink-jet style printer and an electrospinning machine.
Study co-author and professor at the Wake Forest Institute for Regenerative Medicine, Dr. James Yoo said that the study “illustrates that a combination of materials and fabrication methods generates durable implantable constructs.”
Previous attempts to create cartilage found that natural materials resulted in tissue that wasn’t strong enough, but robotically constructed scaffolds made of synthetic polymers were prohibitively expensive and lacked flexibility.
Key to the success of the Wake Forest study is the process of electrospinning, in which fibers made of a porous polymer called polycaprolactone are spun into scaffolds which are then studded with cartilage cells called chondrocytes, taken from the ears of rabbits. The porousness of the polycaprolactone fibers allows the chondrocytes to survive within the hybrid construction and flourish, maintaining their “basic biological properties within the printed layered constructs.”
The constructed cartilage has been used in laboratory mice successfully, where after an average of eight weeks, the implanted tissue had developed the “structures and properties” of regular cartilage.
Scientists project that they will be able to use MRIs or other body scans to assess the needs of individual patients, then use those imaging results as blueprints to produce custom-made cartilage for implantation.
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