Cartilage made easy with novel hybrid printer

November 21, 2012

The printing of three-dimensional tissue has taken a major step forward with the creation of a novel hybrid printer that simplifies the process of creating implantable cartilage.

The printer has been presented today, 22 November, in IOP Publishing's journal Biofabrication, and was used to create cartilage constructs that could eventually be implanted into injured patients to help re-grow cartilage in specific areas, such as the joints.

The printer is a combination of two low-cost fabrication techniques: a traditional ink jet printer and an electrospinning machine. Combining these systems allowed the scientists to build a structure made from natural and synthetic materials. Synthetic materials ensure the strength of the construct and natural gel materials provide an environment that promotes cell growth.

In this study, the hybrid system produced cartilage constructs with increased mechanical stability compared to those created by an ink jet printer using gel material alone. The constructs were also shown to maintain their functional characteristics in the laboratory and a real-life system.

The key to this was the use of the electrospinning machine, which uses an electrical current to generate very fine fibres from a polymer solution. Electrospinning allows the composition of polymers to be easily controlled and therefore produces porous structures that encourage cells to integrate into surrounding tissue.

"This is a proof of concept study and illustrates that a combination of materials and fabrication methods generates durable implantable constructs," said James Yoo, M.D., Ph.D., Professor at the Wake Forest Institute for Regenerative Medicine, and an author on the study. "Other methods of fabrication, such as robotic systems, are currently being developed to further improve the production of implantable tissue constructs."

In this study, flexible mats of electrospun synthetic polymer were combined, layer-by-layer, with a solution of cartilage cells from a rabbit ear that were deposited using the traditional ink jet printer. The constructs were square with a 10cm diagonal and a 0.4mm thickness.

The researchers tested their strength by loading them with variable weights and, after one week, tested to see if the cartilage cells were still alive.

The constructs were also inserted into mice for two, four and eight weeks to see how they performed in a real life system. After eight weeks of implantation, the constructs appeared to have developed the structures and properties that are typical of elastic cartilage, demonstrating their potential for insertion into a patient.

The researchers state that in a future scenario, cartilage constructs could be clinically applied by using an MRI scan of a body part, such as the knee, as a blueprint for creating a matching construct. A careful selection of scaffold material for each patient's construct would allow the implant to withstand mechanical forces while encouraging new cartilage to organise and fill the defect.
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Notes to Editors

Contact

1. For further information, a full draft of the journal paper or contact with one of the researchers, contact IOP Press Officer, Michael Bishop:
Tel: 0117 930 1032
E-mail: Michael.bishop@iop.org

Hybrid printing of mechanically and biologically improved constructs for cartilage tissue engineering applications.

2. The published version of the paper 'Hybrid printing of mechanically and biologically improved constructs for cartilage tissue engineering applications' (Xu et al 2013 Biofabrication 5 015001) will be freely available online from 22 November.

Biofabrication

3. Biofabrication is a journal focusing on using cells, proteins, biomaterials and/or other bioactive elements as building blocks to fabricate advanced biological models, medical therapeutic products and non-medical biological systems.

IOP Publishing

4. IOP Publishing provides publications through which leading-edge scientific research is distributed worldwide. IOP Publishing is central to the Institute of Physics (IOP), a not-for-profit society. Any financial surplus earned by IOP Publishing goes to support science through the activities of IOP.Beyond our traditional journals programme, we make high-value scientific information easily accessible through an ever-evolving portfolio of community websites, magazines, conference proceedings and a multitude of electronic services. Focused on making the most of new technologies, we're continually improving our electronic interfaces to make it easier for researchers to find exactly what they need, when they need it, in the format that suits them best. Go to http://ioppublishing.org/.

The Institute of Physics

5. The Institute of Physics is a leading scientific society. We are a charitable organisation with a worldwide membership of more than 45,000, working together to advance physics education, research and application. We engage with policymakers and the general public to develop awareness and understanding of the value of physics and, through IOP Publishing, we are world leaders in professional scientific communications.

IOP Publishing

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