While some scientists are trying to grow human organs, appendages and cartilage from stem cells, others have figured out a way to fill 3D printers with bioink made from human cells and print ears, noses and knees. Is this the future of movie body doubles?
Paul Gatenholm, Ph.D. from the Wallenberg Wood Science Center in Sweden made this announcement this week at the 251st National Meeting & Exposition of the American Chemical Society (ACS). It’s exciting news because cartilage tissue does not heal when damaged and must be replaced. Until now, replacements came from artificial cartilage or, especially in the case of knees, tissue from other parts of the body.
The challenge was to develop a “bioink” that held together when 3D-printed into a piece of human cell tissue. The structural capablility of the bioink comes from polymeric carbohydrate molecules (polymeric carbohydrate molecules) from brown algae. Polysaccharides are one of the basic components of cellulose, which gives plants and trees their rigidity. The researchers then added more cellulose fibrils and topped it off with human chondrocytes – the cells found in healthy cartilage.
Using the bioink, the scientists 3D-printed living cells in the shape of an ear that held together. That’s it, game over, call the investors and the Nobel committee – right? Not quite, says Gatenholm.
… under in vitro conditions, we have to change the nutrient-filled liquid that the material sits in every other day and add growth factors. It's a very artificial environment.
That means it’s not ready for humans yet. However, they’ve managed to use mice cells to 3D-print tissue that was implanted, survived and grew. To generate more human cells to use in the bioink, they mixed in mesenchymal stem cells from bone marrow that stimulate cell growth.
So implantable 3D-printed ears or knee cartilage made with your own cells that won’t be rejected by your body aren’t quite here yet, but it sounds like Gatenholm’s team is close. They’re working with plastic surgeons and also with a cosmetic company to created human skin for lab tests.
Let’s hope this technology continues to be used for the benefit of those who need new cartilage and not for people who want DiCaprio noses or Kardashian butts.