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3D printer could soon make cartilage for knees, noses, ears

"Three-dimensional bioprinting is a disruptive technology and is expected to revolutionize tissue engineering and regenerative medicine," said lead researcher Paul Gatenholm.
By Brooks Hays   |   March 16, 2016 at 12:13 PM

SAN DIEGO, March 16 (UPI) -- Researchers at the Wallenberg Wood Science Center in Sweden have developed a 3D bioprinter capable of creating cartilage. The 3D printer uses ink containing human cells.

On Wednesday, the scientists responsible for the technology presented their groundbreaking bioprinting process to attendees at the 251st National Meeting and Exposition of the American Chemical Society, held this week in San Diego.

Because cartilage -- the connective tissue found in the nose, ears and joints -- doesn't heal, it must be replaced when damaged by disease or injury.

Previous efforts to create cartilage via bio-ink have failed, with the end products quickly losing their structural integrity. But a new bio-ink -- made from a mix of brown algae polysaccharides and human chondrocytes, the cells that build cartilage -- holds its structure after being printed into the shape of noses, ears and joints.

"Three-dimensional bioprinting is a disruptive technology and is expected to revolutionize tissue engineering and regenerative medicine," lead researcher Paul Gatenholm said in a news release. "Our team's interest is in working with plastic surgeons to create cartilage to repair damage from injuries or cancer."

"We work with the ear and the nose, which are parts of the body that surgeons today have a hard time repairing," Gatenholm continued. "But hopefully, they'll one day be able to fix them with a 3D printer and a bioink made out of a patient's own cells."

After scientists confirmed the bio-ink's structural integrity, they successfully implanted pieces of synthetic cartilage into lab mice. The implants' cells survived and successfully grew more cartilage.

Next, researchers added mesenchymal stem cells from bone marrow to the bioink's mixture. The addition encouraged even greater cartilage cell growth.

Though more preclinical work is necessary, researchers hope to soon test their technology inside human patients.

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