Surgeons may soon be able to regrow patients’ nerves, such as those in damaged spinal cords, using technology adapted from the type of inkjet printer most of us have connected to our computer at home.
Researchers at the ARC Centre of Excellence for Electromaterials Science (ACES), University of Wollongong (UOW) node in NSW, have spent the past three years developing the technology to print living human cells—nerve cells and muscle cells onto tiny biodegradable polymer scaffolds. They’ve also developed a special “ink” that carries the cells.
The ink has to keep the cells in suspension, as well as having the right chemical compostion to keep them alive. It also protects them as they are shot out of the printer at amazing speeds.
The scaffolds act as the base upon which the cells thrive, and contain substances such as growth factor molecules and electrical conduits to enable stimulation to promote cell growth. The aim is to produce structures up to 4 cm long, which can be “patched” into broken or damaged nerves or muscles.
“There’s great interest from the medical world, and we are working closely with clinicians at St Vincents Hospital in Melbourne,” says Prof Gordon Wallace, director of the Materials node of ANFF and ACES. “They’re very interested in the possibilities it raises, and the collaboration is resulting in new ideas almost every week.”
“The support from ANFF and the collaborative, interdisciplinary approach that our facilities bring has attracted the best people in the world to join our teams,” he adds.
Photo: Muscle (C212) and nerve (PC12) cells printed onto collagen ‘bio-paper’.
Gordon Wallace is developing the technology to print human cells.
Intelligent Polymer Research Institute, ARC Centre of Excellence for Electromaterials Science, University of Wollongong, Gordon Wallace, Tel: +61 2 4221 3127, firstname.lastname@example.org, electromaterials.edu.au