Researchers successful in making 3D printed replacement body parts

Researchers successful in making 3D printed replacement body parts

Although we’ve been seeing advancements in nearly every sector of the additive manufacturing industry, one of the most exciting areas to watch over the past year has been in the development and advancement of tissue engineering processes. Among other developments we’ve seen include - from a team of biology researchers from the Department of Chemistry and Biochemistry at the University of Texas at Austin - the discovery that strands of DNA molecules are capable of acting as a glue to hold together 3D printed materials for tissues and organs grown in the lab environment.

Professor Dietmar Hutmacher (Credit: Queensland University of Technology)

More recently, we even saw how Russia’s 3D Bioprinting Solutions has stayed true to their promise of creating the world’s first functioning 3D printed organ after announcing in March that they would be implanting a '3D printed' thyroid gland into a mouse for testing - with the goal of being able to implant lab-grown organs into humans within the next decade. Now, a biofabrication team from the Queensland University of Technology in Brisbane, Australia has made a major breakthrough by successfully 3D printing mechanically reinforced, tissue-engineered constructs for the regeneration of body parts.

Led by professor Dietmar W. Hutmacher of the school’s Institute of Health and Bio-medical Innovation, the biomedical engineers were able to reinforce soft hydrogels used in the tissue engineering process via a 3D printed scaffold.  Inspiration for the structure came from nature, which commonly uses fiber reinforcements to turn weak structures into mechanically-robust ones.  The team calls this technique of creating new microfiber networks "melt electrospinning writing".  

"Such is the case with articular cartilage tissue, which is formed by stiff and strong collagen fibres intertwined within a very weak gel matrix of proteoglycans," said Professor Hutmacher. "By bringing this natural design perspective of fibre reinforcement into the field of tissue engineering (TE), we can learn a lot about how to choose an effective combination of matrix and reinforcement structure in order to achieve composite materials with enhanced mechanical properties for engineering body parts."

Hutmacher added that hydrogels are favored in the tissue engineering process because they have excellent biological properties, however the material has seen setbacks over the years due to its inability to meet mechanical or structural requirements needed to provide the basis for tissue regeneration of the musculoskeletal system. Hutmacher’s biofabrication program is one of three in the world that focuses on 3D printing replacement body parts and offers a Masters in Biofabrication. 

"Our international biofabrication research team has found a way to reinforce these soft hydrogels via a 3D printed scaffold structure so that their stiffness and elasticity are close to that of cartilage tissues," he added. "We found that the stiffness of the gel/scaffold composites increased synergistically up to 54 times, compared with hydrogels or microfiber scaffolds alone.  Computational modelling has shown that we can use these 3D-printed microfibres in different hydrogels and a large range of tissue engineering applications." (Credit: qut.edu.au)

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