A research team at Sahlgrenska Academy in Sweden has succeeded to create cartilage tissue from stem cells using a 3D printer. The fact that stem cells endured the printing is seen as a key success in itself and could possibly serve as an imperative step in the pursuit to 3D-print body parts.The research, which took three years to complete, was carried out in association with the Chalmers University of Technology, which is renowned for its proficiency in 3D-printing biological materials, as well as researchers of orthopedics at Kungsbacka Hospital, a joint statement said.

The research team used cartilage cells taken from individuals in connection with knee surgery. Consequently, the cells were upturned in their development under lab conditions to become so-called pluripotent stem cells, which are cells that have the possibility to develop into any type of cells. Later, they were bounded in a structure of nano cellulose using a 3D printer. After printing, the cells were treated with growth factors to form cartilage.The research, which took three years to complete, was carried out in partnership with the Chalmers University of Technology, which is renowned for its know-how in 3D-printing biological materials, as well as researchers of orthopedics at Kungsbacka Hospital, a joint statement said.The research team used cartilage cells taken from creatures in connection with knee surgery. Subsequently, the cells were retreated in their development under lab conditions to become so-called pluripotent stem cells, which are cells that have the potential to mature into any kind of cells. Later, they were encircled in a structure of nano cellulose using a 3D printer. After printing, the cells were preserved with growth factors to form cartilage.

“The separation of stem cells into cartilage works easily in nature, but is considerably more challenging to perform in test tubes. We are the first to thrive in it,” associate professor of cell biology StinaSimonsson said, as cited by the Swedish newspaper HällekisKuriren, volunteering that the key to succeeding was tricking the cells into considering that they were not alone.Earlier this year, human cartilage cells were efficaciously implanted in six-week-old baby mice. Once embedded, the tissue began to grow and multiply inside the animal, ultimately vascularizing and growing with blood vessels.The end product, which was developed using a Cellink 3D bio-printer, was found to be very similar to human cartilage. Knowledgeable surgeons argued that printed cartilage looked “no different” from that found in patients.

On top of being a major technological achievement, the study represents a major step forward for the artificial creation of human tissue. In the not-too-distant future, 3D printers could be used for repairing cartilage damage or as a treatment for osteoarthritis, which causes the degeneration of joints. The latter is a very common condition, affecting one in four Swedes aged 45 and over.

At present, however, the structure of cellulose used in printed cartilage was ruled “not optimal” for the human body and needs to be fine-tuned before actually benefiting patients.