The use of 3D bioprinters to produce replacement human tissue is one of the most exciting developments in medical science. Now, researchers at the University of Huddersfield have made a breakthrough that could expand the scope and use of the technology.
There is potential for clinics to carry out MRI scans on a patient and feed the data to a 3D printer that produces a synthetic replica of the tissue that is defective. It could take the form of a “plug” to be implanted into a damaged joint.
However, human tissue is often a combination of stiff and soft material combined – such as bone and cartilage – and there have been problems in using bioprinters to replicate the softer layers because the polymers used have an exceptionally low viscosity when they are in a liquid state.
“With very low viscosity materials, when you lay down the first layer, it collapses under its own weight and doesn’t retain its shape. When you put the next layer on it won’t integrate,” said Dr Alan Smith, who is Reader in Biopolymer Materials at the University of Huddersfield.
Now, he and his fellow researchers – including his former PhD student Dr Samuel Moxon and colleagues at the University of Birmingham – have developed a method of using gel particles as a suspending media.