Utrecht researchers begin 3D printing bone cartilage

Researchers working on 3D printing bone cartilage (Picture: UMC Utrecht)Researchers working on 3D printing bone cartilage (Picture: UMC Utrecht)

An international team of researchers, led by the University Medical Center Utrecht, has designed a material to  restore cartilage in joints by using 3D printing techniques, UMC Utrecht announced on their website today.

The researchers mad use of so-called hydrogels - networks of polymers which can retain a large amount of moisture. Hydrogels are used in regenerative medicine as a support for cells to repair articular cartilage. Using 3D printing technology, the researchers were able to print a network of thin fibers with which they strengthened the gel, giving it similar properties as cartilage in joints.

"At this moment cell therapy is already successfully applied in a number of Dutch hospitals to repair damage to cartilage", said Jos Malda, associate professor at the University of Utrecht and UMC Utrecht, as well as the coordinator of the research project. "But there are limitations to the shape and size of the cartilage defect that you can fix with it. Our reinforced hydrogels are firmer and more elastic than most cell carriers and with this we can eventually perhaps restore larger parts of a joint. Moreover, with 3D bioprinters it is possible to reconstruct the specific form and content of the damage and the contours of the joint."

The scientists are currently researching the repair of large defects in joints after the enhanced hydrogels were used to establish the quality of the newly formed cartilage.

This research is a collaboration between several universities, including the University of Wurzburg in Germany and the Queensland University of Technology in Australia, and is funded by the European Union and the Arthritis Foundation.