US researchers simplify the creation of cartilage implants

Researchers in the US claim to have developed a way to simplify the creation of cartilage implants using 3D printers.

The scientists at the Wake Forest Institute for Regenerative Medicine have improved the use of an electrospinning machine to create porous scaffolds, onto which layers of lab-reared cartilage cells are deposited by a 3D printer and grown into implants.

Dr Anthony Atala, director of the North Carolina-based research centre, said the team had been able to improve the pattern of polymer fibres produced by electrospinning to create the tissue scaffold.

Electrospinning machines, which draw fine fibres from a liquid solution by spinning them around a central mandrel with an electrical charge, typically produced a random pattern of fibres, he told The Engineer.

‘To create these structures you want a spongy structure but you don’t want it to be random; you want it in an organised manner, in a more symmetrical position.

‘We played a lot with the way that the mandrel would rotate — the mechanical part of the delivery — and with a constant rate of the fibre delivery and a constant rate of the movement of the mandrel.

‘This gives us a much better ability to produce these structures in a regular, reproducible manner and so now we’re trying to make this applicable to humans in the future.’

In a study published in the Institute of Physics’ journal Biofabrication, the researchers tested cartilage constructs built with the new technique by inserting them into mice.

They reported that after eight weeks the constructs appeared to have developed the structures and properties typical of natural elastic cartilage.

‘This is a proof-of-concept study and illustrates that a combination of materials and fabrication methods generates durable implantable constructs,’ said study author Dr James Yoo in a statement.

‘Other methods of fabrication, such as robotic systems, are currently being developed to further improve the production of implantable tissue constructs.’