Researchers at the University of Connecticut (UConn) School of Dental Medicine have come up with a new handheld 3D bioprinter that improves where the existing technology has somewhat failed in the treatment of musculoskeletal injuries.
In a paper published in the Journal of the American Chemical Society, UConn biomedical engineers revealed that the bioprinter will make it possible to drop scaffolds exactly into affected sites inside injured skeletal muscles.
Scaffolds are materials that support the growth of cells and tissues.
“The printer is robust and allows proper filling of the cavity with fibrillar scaffolds in which fibers resemble the architecture of the native tissue,” said Dr. Ali Tamayol, the biomedical engineer who developed the bioprinter.
The device produces scaffolds that fit in perfectly with nearby tissues at the site of an injury. It promises to transform how surgeons carry out musculoskeletal procedures.
Existing 3D printing technology
Medical experts have taken an interest in the treatment of musculoskeletal issues with 3D printing technology.
However, existing approaches do not deliver the best results. They have especially not been perfect for fixing volumetric muscle loss.
Surgeons have produced 3D-bioprinted scaffolds aimed at imitating skeletal muscles in vitro. But they have not gotten great results with these materials in real subjects.
For scaffolds to be well used, they require the use of the right biomaterial. This helps to ensure that the scaffolds stick perfectly to the weakened sites.
“A new treatment paradigm”
The researchers that developed the new handheld 3D printer thought it would improve musculoskeletal procedures notably. It deals with the failings of existing 3D bioprinting technology.
The printer produces gelatin-based hydrogels, which are also called “bioink.”
These hydrogels have been shown to correct injuries in mice that involved volumetric muscle loss. They adhered perfectly to damaged sites.
After being treated with these materials, injured mice showed a huge increase and growth in the size of their muscles. This is similar to an effect linked to weight training.
Brigham and Women’s Hospital plastic surgeon Dr. Indranil Sinha, who was also involved in the research, said no good solution existed for the treatment of patients with volumetric muscle loss.
“A customizable, printed gel establishes the foundation for a new treatment paradigm that can improve the care of our trauma patients,” he said.
Tamayol said these new printers will make it possible for clinicians to print the scaffold precisely inside the body of a patient.
According to the UConn associate professor of biomedical engineering, there is no need for advanced imaging and printing systems when using the bioprinters. This makes them all the more exciting for treating musculoskeletal injuries.
The National Institutes of Health and Stepping Strong Center offered the funding for the research.
For now, Tamayol and Sinha have put in a patent application for their new technology.
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