Melbourne scientists have been able to “grow” human cartilage from stem cells with the help of 3D printing technologies developed at the University of Wollongong.
Scientists at the university’s Australian Research Council Centre of Excellence for Electromaterials Science (ACES) developed the 3D scaffolds which were used to grow the cartilage cells, or chondrocytes.
The medical breakthrough, led by Associate Professor Damian Myers of St Vincent’s Hospital, Melbourne, will eventually be used to repair cartilage damaged through trauma or disease.
Prof Myers said this was the first time true cartilage had been grown.
“We basically take fat cells from behind the knee cap, then we isolate the stem cells from the fat tissue,” he said.
“Then we’re differentiating, or actually forcing the stem cells to become cartilage cells within the 3D scaffolds and we form cartilage tissue by doing that.
“We’re doing the experiment in the laboratory, so the next step is to start testing that in a pre-clinical model.
“Hopefully over the next three to five years we can advance that for use in humans, for cartilage repair.”
Prof Myers said this method would benefit those with traumatic injuries from accidents, sporting injuries or certain conditions or diseases like osteoarthritis.
“There’s potential for people who have cancers that might have affected their knee or for some forms of knee or connective tissue disease,” he said.
UOW stem cell biologist Associate Professor Jeremy Crook said the university had customised fabrication equipment that enabled the live cells to be impregnated into a printed 3D structure.
He said as well as cartilage repair, this 3D printing technology could be combined with advances in stem cell research to develop other tissues such as muscle and even nerves.
“For instance, we plan to take human stem cells, such as stem cells that are isolated from the brain, and turn them into neurons which are cells of the brain,” Prof Crook said.
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