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Researchers Advance 3D Printing in Effort to Rebuild Damaged Bone Tissues

By Maryland Today Staff

Bioscientists are moving closer to 3D-printed artificial tissues to help heal bone and cartilage typically damaged in sports-related injuries to knees, ankles and elbows.

Researchers with the Center for Engineering Complex Tissues, a National Institutes of Health center at the University of Maryland, Rice University and the Wake Forest School of Medicine, reported their first success at engineering scaffolds that replicate the physical characteristics of osteochondral tissue—basically, hard bone beneath a compressible layer of cartilage that appears as the smooth surface on the ends of long bones.

John Fisher, chair of the Fischell Department of Bioengineering and Fischell Family Distinguished Professor, is the center’s director and a co-author of the paper published in Acta Biomaterialia.

Injuries to these bones, from small cracks to pieces that break off inside the joint, can be painful or even stop athletes from competing altogether. Osteochondral injuries can also lead to disabling arthritis.

The gradient nature of the cartilage-into-bone interface and its porosity have made it difficult to reproduce in the lab, but Rice scientists used 3D printing to fabricate what they believe will eventually be a suitable material for implantation.

The key is mimicking tissue that turns gradually from cartilage (chondral tissue) at the surface to bone (osteo) underneath. Researchers printed a scaffold with custom mixtures of a polymer for the former and a ceramic for the latter with imbedded pores that would allow the patient’s own cells and blood vessels to infiltrate the implant, eventually allowing it to become part of the natural bone and cartilage.

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