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Utrecht University
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3D printing improves cartilage healing


An international team of researchers under the leadership of UMC Utrecht has developed a material that could help cartilage tissue in joints to heal using 3D printing techniques. “This may facilitate the treatment of larger joint defects than can be treated with current techniques”, says Jos Malda, university lecturer at Utrecht University and UMC Utrecht. “Moreover, thanks to 3D printing technology, it would be possible to reconstruct the joint’s original shape.” The results have been published in Nature Communications.

The researchers used materials called hydrogels, which are networks of polymers that can absorb large quantities of fluid. Some examples of hydrogels include winegums, pudding and soft contact lenses. In regenerative medicine, hydrogels can serve as carriers for cells to restore joint cartilage. Using 3D printing techniques, the scientists were able to ‘print’ a network of thin fibres, with which they then reinforced the gel. The new composite material displayed properties similar to joint cartilage.

Larger and better shape
“At the moment, a number of Dutch hospitals are successfully utilising cell therapy to repair cartilage damage”, says the project coordinator Malda. “But there are still limitations to the size and shape of the cartilage defects that can be repaired. Our reinforced hydrogels are sturdier and more elastic than the currently applied cell carriers, and we may eventually be able to use them to restore larger areas of the joint. In addition, with 3D printers it is possible to reconstruct the specific shape of the defect, as well as the contours of the joint.”At the moment, the scientists are studying the recovery of larger joint defects using these reinforced hydrogels and examine the quality of the newly formed cartilage.

Dr. Jos Malda, Veterinary Medicine / Medicine, Utrecht University
With 3D printers it is possible to reconstruct the specific shape of the defect, as well as the contours of the joint.
Dr. Jos Malda, Veterinary Medicine / Medicine, Utrecht University

New Master’s in Biofabrication
The study was financed in part by the European Union (HydroZONES project) and the Dutch Arthritis Foundation (Reumafonds), and is a collaborative effort by universities including the University of Würzburg (Germany) and the Queensland University of Technology (Australia), two of the partners with whom Utrecht University is this year offering a Master’s in Biofabrication.

Biofabrication Conference
The researchers from Utrecht will host the conference Biofabrication 2015 in November 2015. This conference will bring together scientists from around the world to present the latest results, ideas, methods and technologies in the field of 3D bioprinting.

This study is closely related to Utrecht University’s strategic research theme Life Sciences, under the sub-theme of Regenerative Medicine & Stem Cells, which focuses on repairing and replacing tissue.

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