Cartilage printed in a lab could be the first step towards a cure for arthritis

    1 July 2016

    Researchers have created ‘designer’ patches of cartilage in the lab, raising the prospect of a future cure for osteoarthritis.

    The patches were created from cow cells. Researchers are now planning to try to recreate human cartilage in the same way. If successful the patches could replace the worn-out cartilage in osteoarthritis sufferers.

    The process, which uses 3D printing, has been described in the journal Scientific Reports.

    Ibrahim Ozbolat, an associate professor of engineering science and mechanics at Penn State University, said: ‘Our goal is to create tissue that can be used to replace large amounts of worn-out tissue or design patches. Those who have osteoarthritis in their joints suffer a lot. We need a new alternative treatment for this.’

    The researchers developed a method to create artificial cartilage. They produced tiny tubes — between three and five hundredths of an inch in diameter — made of an algae extract. They injected cow cartilage cells into the tube and allowed them to grow for a week, before removing them from the tube, leaving a synthetic strand of cartilage.

    These strands were then reproduced in a 3D printer and can be put together in a way that copies the structure of natural cartilage.

    Ozbolat said: ‘We can manufacture the strands in any length we want. Because there is no scaffolding, the process of printing the cartilage is scalable, so the patches can be made bigger as well. We can mimic real articular cartilage by printing strands vertically and then horizontally to mimic the natural architecture.’

    Instant analysis
    This study has yielded results of decent scientific significance — but that is a long way from providing a cure for arthritis. It represents a huge step but is still the first up a long ladder. Nonetheless, it does show potential for a range of possible clinical applications in years to come.
    Research score: 3/5