Bioinks containing stem cells are being used to 3-D print living tissues that can be inserted into the body and provoke a damaged joint to heal itself.

It’s a development that could reduce the discomfort and pain of the one in 10 people who will suffer from arthritis over their lifetime. Arthritis acts by breaking down the rubbery cartilage  found in joints, leading to pain, stiffness and swelling.

But 3-D printing technology could enable new cartilage to be printed on demand using patients’ own cells as the building blocks – a technique known as bioprinting.

Professor Jos Malda is working with such 3-D bioprinting in his lab at the University Medical Centre Utrecht in the Netherlands. As part of a project called 3-D-JOINT, his team is working to make bioprinted tissues that can be implanted into a living joint to replace the damaged part. These would eventually mature into a tissue that is the same as the original healthy cartilage.

Already, stem cells can be deposited by 3-D printers according to a precise blueprint,