3D-Printed Tissue Could Fix Athletes' Damaged Joints From Sports-Related Injuries

3D-Printed Tissue Could Fix Athletes' Damaged Joints
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by Jessica Tabinor on

     INDUSTRY NEWS | 2 MIN READ

  • Scientists have developed 3D-printed tissue implants that could repair sports-related injuries.

  • The implants will encourage bone healing and cartilage repair. 

  • Sport and engineering are connecting more than ever with technology enabling the industry to help solve problems associated with sport, health and exercise.

A group of scientists at Rice University, Texas and the University of Maryland have been successful at creating the first scaffolds that replicate the physical characteristics of osteochondral tissue, the hard bone beneath a compressible layer of cartilage.

With the new technology, sports-related injuries, often affecting ankles, knees and elbows could one day be fixed with 3D printed artificial issues. Along with a high susceptibility to arthritis, osteochondral injuries are often very painful with the risk of ending athletes’ careers in their tracks. The implants will encourage bone healing and cartilage repair. 


Linking sport and engineering 

Sport and engineering are connecting more than ever with technology enabling the industry to help solve problems associated with sport, health and exercise. It is a relatively new but rapidly expanding area which is attracting large interest and investment from professional sports clubs, equipment manufacturers as well as wearable technology developers.

The research has been led by bioengineer Antonios Mikos and graduate student Sean Bittner. Although the gradient nature of cartilage into bone has made it difficult to reproduce in the lab, they believe that they have fabricated a 3D printed material which is suitable for implantation. 


Morson Sports News
How does it work?

The Biomaterials Lab at Rice printed a scaffold with custom mixtures of a polymer for the former and a ceramic for the latter with embedded pores that would allow the patient’s own cells and blood vessels to infiltrate the implant, eventually allowing it to become part of the natural bone and cartilage.

Their results are reported in Acta Biomaterialia.

“Athletes are disproportionately affected by these injuries, but they can affect everybody,” said Bittner, a third-year bioengineering graduate student at Rice, a National Science Foundation fellow and lead author of the paper. “I think this will be a powerful tool to help people with common sports injuries.”

“For the most part, the composition will be the same from patient to patient. There’s porosity included so vasculature can grow in from the native bone. We don’t have to fabricate the blood vessels ourselves.”

The future of the project will involve figuring out how to print an osteochondral implant that perfectly fits the patient and allows the porous implant to grow into and knit with the bone and cartilage.


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