Is 3D Printing the Cure?

Professor Jos Malda and a team of University Medical Center Utrecht researchers in the Netherlands are on the verge of a breakthrough in medical technology, and the key is 3D printing. reports on what the researchers believe may be the cure for arthritis. This cure, they assert, comes in the form of specialized bioinks produced by a 3D printer. The goal of printing these inks would be to create new living tissues that could be inserted into the spaces between bones, acting as new joints for those with degraded or otherwise damaged tissues and restoring mobility and articulation.

Using a patient’s own cells, the ink printed would become cartilage, growing into the necessary spaces in the body without fear of rejection. While not ready to roll out into medical practices worldwide, the team is currently working with a process called melt electro-writing to help strengthen the tissues enough to be viable.

Melt electro-writing uses an electric field to create polycaprolactone fibers, which are extremely thin and can be layered together to create extra support for bioink. If successful, it could provide the necessary strength required to make cartilage, as stem cell treatments alone have not been sufficient in replicating the function of joints in the body.

What’s the Issue?

According to Professor Malda, the current biggest issue in successfully replacing joints with 3D printed tissues like these is differentiation. Different joints around the body can vary wildly in their cell types and functions, so printing a single type of bioink simply isn’t feasible. In order to overcome this obstacle, the team is looking into how these cells replicate and how best to grow them into the forms necessary to replace different joints.

While further research is necessary and it will likely be some time before you can have your joints replaced, this is still a major step forward in medical science.