Researchers 3D Print Stem Cells and Grow Human Cartilage

Researchers 3D Print Stem Cells and Grow Human Cartilage

A team of Swedish researchers have announced they have successfully 3D printed stem cells and artificially created a material with properties highly similar to human cartilage.

The properties of the 3D printed cartilage are so similar to human cartilage that they could not be differentiated by experienced surgeons. The research team from Sweden’s Chalmers University of Technology claims to have made a significant breakthrough in the growth of human cartilage in vitro.

While stem cells naturally develop into cartilage in the body, recreating the process in vitro is a complicated process and 3D printing viable stem cells has been a major challenge. Lead researcher and Associate Professor of Cell Biology Stina Simonsson said, “We’re the first to succeed with it, and we did so without any animal testing whatsoever.” The research has taken three years of hard work, with major challenges overcome not only with 3D printing viable cells, but ensuring the stem cells differentiated into cartilage.

Cartilage cells were first extracted from patients undergoing knee surgery before being reverted to pluripotent stem cells. The team then encapsulated the stem cells in nanofibrillated cellulose and 3D printed them into predefined structures. The cells survived the printing process and were treated with growth stimulants, causing them to multiply and differentiate into cartilage. The team was able to trick the cells into differentiating before they multiplied using mediums harvested from other cells that contained the signals used by stem cells to communicate with each other.

While the printing process was successful, there is one problem that needs to be overcome before the technique could be considered for medical applications. The cellulose used to encapsulate the stem cells may not be suitable for use in the human body. The researchers are planning to conduct further studies using different materials that can be easily broken down by the body to leave the cartilage behind. Another problem with the technique is the huge numbers of live stem cells required for 3D printing the cartilage.

While there are certainly potential stumbling blocks with this technique, the researchers are confident that the issues can be overcome, saying, “We believe that this research will help bring forward 3D bioprinting with iPSCs as a future treatment to repair damaged cartilage in joints.”

The team’s research paper – Cartilage Tissue Engineering by the 3D Bioprinting of iPS Cells in a Nanocellulose/Alginate Bioink has recently been published in the journal Scientific Reports.

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