Printing a cartilage repair kit

A new printing technology can now simultaneously print living stem cells and the environment they need to survive and become the right cell type. The first application is a cartilage repair kit.

“Our current 3D printers can integrate living and non-living materials in specific arrangements at a range of scales, from micrometres to millimetres,” says Professor Gordon Wallace, Director of the ARC Centre of Excellence for Electromaterials Science (ACES) at the University of Wollongong.

“And we’re developing new approaches that will enable 3D printing of nano-dimensional features.”

Gordon and his colleagues are finding that the right arrangement of stem cells and supporting materials could provide protected insulin-producing cells for people with diabetes, or accelerated bone and cartilage repair, and even ‘benchtop brain’ tissue for studying brain diseases.

The team has already created the ‘BioPen’, a handheld 3D printer that prints stem cells inside a sheath of a protective polymer containing growth factors. A surgeon can apply it directly to damaged cartilage, promoting the stem cells to regenerate new cartilage.

Gordon says this technology combined with 3D scanning of a patient and the use of their own stem cells could give clinicians the ability to tailor tissues to be a perfect match— both physically and genetically—for their patients.

“We’re taking the patient’s own cells and arranging them in a way that promotes their development into the types of tissues required and minimising the risk of rejection.”

For more information:
ARC Centre of Excellence for Electromaterials Science
Natalie Foxon Phillips
+61 2 4221 3239

Banner image: Printing cartilage repair kits: Gordon (front) with colleague Dr Stephen Beirne.
Credit: University of Wollongong