Someday soon, patients in need of cartilage repair or cartilage replacement in joints like the knee will be able to have a printed copy of a piece of cartilage. Research in Regenerative Medicine took a leap forward with the invention of a new machine that prints 3D cartilage tissue. This breakthrough makes the potential of a full repair for injuries and degenerative conditions in places like the the knee and between the spine’s vertebrae possible in the near future.
Cartilaginous tissue is an essential part of the human body. It provides a strong yet flexible structure as well as vital cushioning to various joints of the body. Unfortunately, injuries and tears to or the breakdown of cartilage are not quick to heal, as they don’t have a vast blood supply. New cartilage regeneration and repair techniques are in high demand.
The research conducted at Wake Forest University was performed via a machine that combines electrospinning and inkjet printing. Most people are familiar with inkjet printing; the same concept that prints pictures on paper is able to deposit fine layers of material to create a 3D structure—in this case, cartilage tissue. Electrospinning utilizes a charge that draws fibers from liquid. The research team took cartilage from a rabbit ear and programmed the machine to layer the electrospinning and inkjet processes to create useable cartilage tissue.
Currently, this technique is not available for repair of the knee or other joints, as it must be rigorously tested using human cartilage samples. However, there are a variety of other Regenerative Medicine techniques that can speed the repair of knee cartilage. Platelet-rich plasma therapy and bone marrow concentrate injections all enhance the body’s own ability to repair and regenerate. Used at orthopedic and physical medicine centers like the Orthohealing Center in Los Angeles, California, these techniques offer patients alternatives and adjuncts to traditional treatment.