3D printing is not new, but it sure has got researchers hooked up to see. Not only is it capable of making transplantable organs from one’s stem cells, but now it might be able to replace a bone soon.
The researchers have used a 3-D scaffold, which can be molded exactly in the shape of the hips. A living hip replacement will prove to be a boon for treating worn, arthritic hips without extensive surgery to replace them. They programmed stem cells to grow new cartilage on a 3-D template shaped like the ball of a hip joint. And by using gene therapy, they activated the new cartilage to release anti-inflammatory molecules to stop the return of arthritis.
This discovery may someday prove to be an alternative to hip-replacement surgery, especially in younger patients. Usually, the prosthetic joints last for 20 years. And for patients with age less than 50, it will be a big risk. A second joint-replacement surgery to remove a worn prosthetic can destroy bone and put patients at risk for infection.
The 3D scaffold is made from a woven material that can bear up to 10 times a patient’s weight, letting them exercise and otherwise live normally. It is molded into the precise shape of a patient’s joint, is covered with cartilage made from the patient’s own stem cells taken from fat beneath the skin. The scaffold is then implanted into the surface of the hip. “Living” tissue for transplantation is designed to ease arthritis pain, and delay or even eliminate the need for joint-replacement surgery in patients. If a gene is inserted into a newly grown cartilage and activated with a drug, the gene can release the anti-inflammatory molecules to fight a return of arthritis, which usually is what triggers such joint problems in the first place. The 3-D scaffold is built using a weaving pattern that gives the device the structure and properties of normal cartilage. The woven fiber implants are stronger and can withstand loads up to 10 times a patient’s body weight. Osteoarthritis is a growing problem in the age group 40-60. And it has limited treatment options as conservative approaches haven’t worked and they are not yet candidates for total joint replacement because of their ages. Scientists have tested various aspects of tissue engineering in cell culture, and some customized implants are already being tested in laboratory animals. As for now, the researchers claim to get this device ready in 5 years from now.