3-D Bio printing of cartilage: A success story

Microstructure of a cartilage research (Photographer: Ed Uthman).

by Kat Pooprasert

Recently, a team of researchers at the Sahlgrenska Academy, was able to successfully generate cartilage tissue by printing stem cells using a 3D-bioprinter. The team was also able to influence the cells to multiple and differentiate into chondrocytes (cartilage cells).

This research project was part of a collaboration with researchers at the Chalmers University of Technology and the orthopedics researchers team from Kungsbacka.

The research involved the use of cartilage cells obtained from patients who underwent knee surgery and these cells were then induced to revert back into ‘pluripotent’ stem cells. Pluripotent stem cells are stem cells that can develop into various types of cells. These stem cells were then expanded and placed into a medium composed of nanofibrillated cellulose and then printed into a structure suing a 3D bio printer. After printing, the stem cells were then treated with growth factors that caused tem to differentiate and form cartilage tissue.

This is the result of three long years of hard work and is a great feat. Stina Simonsson, Associate Professor of Cell Biology and the lead of the research team described that “in nature, the differentiation of stem cells into cartilage is a simple process, but it’s much more complicated to accomplish in a test tube. We’re the first to succeed with it, and we did so without any animal testing whatsoever”.

The hardest process of the research was to find a procedure so that the cells would survive printing, multiply and differentiate into cartilage cells.

“We investigated various methods and combined different growth factors. Each individual stem cell is encased in nanocellulose, which allows it to survive the process of being printed into a 3D structure. We also harvested mediums from other cells that contain the signals that stem cells use to communicate with each other so called conditioned medium. In layman’s terms, our theory is that we managed to trick the cells into thinking that they aren’t alone,” Stina Simonsson further expalined.

One of the most important insight learned from this research was a large amount of live stem cells was needed.

In addition, the cartilage formed by the 3D bio printer was extremely similar to real human cartilage and experienced surgeons saw no difference between the two. For example, similar to normal cartilage, the lab-grown material contains Type II collagen , and under the microscope the cells appear to be perfectly formed.

This breakthrough study has serious implications in the healthcare field, and can be used to treat common conditions such as osteoarthritis. Osteoarthritis is a condition where joint cartilage degenerates and can be life debilitating. With further development, this research might be able to help target this common, and many other degenerative conditions.

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