3D printed tissues could help heal bones and cartilage

02 April 2019

Scientists are closer to developing 3D printed artificial tissues that could help heal bones and cartilage, specifically those damaged in sports-related injuries. Scaffolds for the tissues have been successfully engineered.
Cassie Sims

Small injuries to osteochondral tissue – a hard bone that sits beneath a layer of cartilage that appears smooth – can be extremely painful and heal slowly. These injuries are very common in athletes and can stop their careers in their tracks. Osteochondral tissue can also lead to arthritis over time.

As osteochondral tissue is somewhere between bone and cartilage, and is quite porous, it is very difficult to reproduce. But now, bioengineering researchers at Rice University, Texas, US, have used 3D printing techniques to develop a material that may be be suitable in future for medical use.

A porous scaffold, with custom polymer mixes for cartilage and ceramic for bone, was engineered. The imbedded pores allow cells and blood vessels from the patient to infiltrate, integrating the scaffold into the natural bone and cartilage.

 Sean Bittner

Sean Bittner, graduate student at Rice University, holding the 3D printed material. Image Jeff Fitlow/Rice University.

‘For the most part, the composition will be the same from patient to patient,’ said Sean Bittner, graduate student at Rice University and lead author of the study. ‘There's porosity included so vasculature can grow in from the native bone. We don't have to fabricate the blood vessels ourselves.’

Next, the work will focus on making the implant custom-fit to the patient. They hope that their work will lead to new regenerative medicine solutions, particularly in athletic injuries of the knees, ankles and elbows.

‘Athletes are disproportionately affected by these injuries, but they can affect everybody,’ said Bittner. ‘I think this will be a powerful tool to help people with common sports injuries.’

DOI: 10.1016/j.actbio.2019.03.041

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