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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