Engineers Develop Process to 3-D Print Cells to Produce Human Tissue Such as Ligaments And Tendons


Source: University of Utah

Summary: A team of biomedical engineers have developed a method to 3-D-print cells to produce human tissue such as ligaments and tendons, a process that will greatly improve a patient’s recovery.


Currently, replacement tissue for patients can be harvested from another part of the patient’s body or sometimes from a cadaver, but they may be of poor quality. Spinal discs are complicated structures with bony interfaces that must be recreated to be successfully transplanted. With today’s technology, we can 3-D-print sculptures, mechanical parts, prosthetics, even guns and food. But a team of University of Utah biomedical engineers have developed a method to 3-D-print cells to produce human tissue such as ligaments and tendons, a process that will greatly improve a patient’s recovery. A person with a badly damaged ligament, tendon, or ruptured disc could simply have new replacement tissue printed and ultimately implanted in the damaged area. It will allow patients to receive replacement tissues without additional surgeries and without having to harvest tissue from other sites, which has its own source of problems. The study findings were published in the journal Tissue Engineering.

Biomedical engineering

University of Utah biomedical engineering assistant professor Robby Bowles and his team have developed a method to 3D print cells to produce human tissue such as ligaments and tendons to greatly improve a patient’s recovery. Credit: Dan Hixson/University of Utah College of Engineering.

The 3-D-printing method, which took two years to research, involves taking stem cells from the patient’s own body fat and printing them on a layer of hydrogel to form a tendon or ligament which would later grow in vitro in a culture before being implanted. But it’s an extremely complicated process because that kind of connective tissue is made up of different cells in complex patterns. For example, cells that make up the tendon or ligament must then gradually shift to bone cells so the tissue can attach to the bone. This is a technique in a very controlled manner to create a pattern and organizations of cells that you couldn’t create with previous technologies. It allows researchers to very specifically put cells where they want them. The research team developed a special print head for the printer that can lay down human cells in the controlled manner they require. To prove the concept, the team printed out genetically-modified cells that glow a fluorescent color so they can visualize the final product.

Asst. Prof. Robby Bowles said, “It literally could be used for any type of tissue engineering application, It also could be applied to the 3-D printing of whole organs, an idea researchers have been studying for years.”


More Information: David Ede et al, “Microfluidic Flow Cell Array for Controlled Cell Deposition in Engineered Musculoskeletal Tissues”, Tissue Engineering Part C: Methods (2018). DOI: 10.1089/ten.TEC.2018.0184


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