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Print Your Own 3D Cartilage: Next Big Thing?

Six hundred-thousand Americans undergo knee replacement therapy every year in the United States to rid themselves of the pain of worn out joints. But instead of metal or plastic, imagine doctors inserting a strand of lab-grown cartilage to rejuvenate and cushion the joint. It could be medicine’s next big thing.

It could be from years of pounding, or climbing, or just advancing age. Sometimes the knees aren’t what they used to be.

“People can’t even walk. They have a hard time in their daily lives,” Ibrahim Ozbolat, Ph.D., Tissue Engineer at Penn State University said.

Inside a Penn State University lab, Professor Ozbolat and his team are engineering a solution.

Ozbolat is an expert in three-dimensional bioprinting, the technique of printing layers of living cells to create a three-D object. Like this nose, constructed from silicone, and printed in the lab.

Now the team is moving down the human body to the knee, producing cartilage patches to repair defects.

Daniel Hayes, PhD, Biomedical Engineer at Penn State University explained, “Many of the strategies that we look at for repairing osteochondral defects involve stem cells.”

There are no blood vessels in cartilage tissue, so researchers say it’s a good type of tissue for bioprinting. Using cow cells as a test, Professor Ozbolat’s team grows the cartilage into strands that can be used as an ink substitute.

“So the bio-ink is the biological version of the ink that is used in printers like you can see here,” Professor Ozbolat explained.

In the future, Ozbolat says stem cells would be removed from a patient, cultured in a lab, the cartilage printed, and then transplanted back into a patient, someday allowing scientists to print new and compatible, human parts.

If this process is eventually applied to humans, each individual would probably need to supply his or her own cells to avoid tissue rejection. 

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