3D printed tissues could keep athletes on track

3D printed tissues could keep athletes on track

Bio-engineers from Rice University and the University of Maryland have shown off their first success at engineering scaffolds which can act like osteochondral tissue.

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Problems with osteochondral tissue – the hard bone beneath a compressible layer of cartilage – can lead to painful injuries and disabling arthritis. Their research could offer completely new ways to treat patients with Osteochondral in future.

Bittner, a third-year bioengineering graduate student at Rice, explained that while “Athletes are disproportionately affected by these injuries, but they can affect everybody”. The team believe their new method will be a “powerful tool to help people with common sports injuries”.

Up to now, researchers have struggled to deal with how cartilage changes into bone. They believe that the key to implanting replacement tissue is being able to understand and mimic the tissue which turns gradually from cartilage – chondral tissue – at the surface to bone – osteo – below. Up to now the gradient nature of the transition of tissue types has made it tricky to reproduce in a lab environment.

The team were able to use 3D printing to create what they think will eventually be a suitable material for replacement of Osteochondral tissue.

Using the research, the Biomaterials Lab at Rice were able to “print” a scaffold using a custom mix of polymer to mimic cartilage and a ceramic to mimic bone.

The difference in the materials embedded pores meant the patient’s cells and blood vessels were able to successfully infiltrate the implant. Allowing it to become part of the natural bone and cartilage. This means the team didn’t have to fabricate blood vessels themselves.

The next step will be figuring out how to 3D print an osteochondral implant which can perfectly fit a patient but allows it to grow into and fuse with existing bone and cartilage.

Published as “Fabrication and mechanical characterization of 3D printed vertical uniform and gradient scaffolds for bone and osteochondral tissue engineering” in Acta Biomaterialia

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