It seems that the next technological revolution will be ushered in by the ever so versatile 3D printers that are being used across the board to literally print just about anything. Whether it is 3D printers that can be bought for home use or printers used to create replicas of James Bond’s Aston Martin to destroy in the latest Bond film, these nifty devices are increasingly becoming the next best thing technology has to offer.
Of course, because of their ingenuity, 3D printers are also having wide application in the field of medicine, where they are being tested to see if they can be used for printing parts of the human body. Though not quite there yet, the latest creation from a hybrid printer is the printing of cartilage, the first time this has ever been done.
Researchers from the Wake Forest Institute for Regenerative Medicine in North Carolina, USA, were able to bio fabricate cartilage using an ink jet printer and a spinning machine, creating artificial cartilage that could possibly be used for the treatment of joints and related injuries.
Detailing their work in the Institute of Physics’ journal, Biofabrication, the researchers said they were able to create the cartilage using polymer combined cartilage cells from a rabbit’s ear. Feeding this mixture to a spinning machine, the researchers were able to create very fine fibers, which were then printed, giving the artificial cartilage porous properties, which, according to the research, are essential to the cartilage.
Implanting it in mice, the artificial cartilage was seen to develop the attribute of real cartilage after 8 weeks and according to the researchers, this could mean use of the artificial cartilage in humans.
Co-author James Yoo spoke about the research, saying, "This is a proof-of-concept study and illustrates that a combinations of materials and fabrication methods generates durable implantable constructs.”
The researchers suggested that with future development, the artificial cartilage could even be “tailor made,” making the cartilage specific to patients.
Commenting on the innovation, Dr. Richard Weiler of the University College London Hospitals said, “Certainly with sport there are injuries that cause damage to cartilage - we have seen this with some famous footballers, cyclists and other athletes who have had traumatic injuries where the cartilage has been damaged and then drops off and doesn't grow back very well in the affected area. However, there have been lots of previous cartilage replacement technologies that were shown to have had an effect in animals but have proved not to be as good as hoped when used long-term by humans. This technology sounds an interesting development; we would just want to make sure it's safe."