New York: In a breakthrough, researchers claim to have 3D printed a windpipe cartilage designed for tracheal repair or replacement by using a patient's own cells.
Tracheal damage can be caused by tumour, endotracheal intubation, blunt trauma, and other injuries. Narrowing and weakness of the trachea can occur and are often difficult to repair.
There have been two traditional means of reconstructing a damaged trachea, but both techniques have limitations.
Investigators at The Feinstein Institute for Medical Research in US combined two emerging fields: 3D printing and tissue engineering.
The team made cartilage from a mixture of cells called chondrocytes, used nutrients to feed them, and employed collagen to bind the materials together.
A 3D printer constructs scaffolding, which is covered in a mixture of chondrocytes and collagen, which then grows into cartilage.
"Making a windpipe or trachea is uncharted territory," said Todd Goldstein, an investigator at the Feinstein Institute.
"It has to be rigid enough to withstand coughs, sneezes and other shifts in pressure, yet flexible enough to allow the neck to move freely," said Goldstein.
"With 3D printing, we were able to construct 3D-printed scaffolding that the surgeons could immediately examine and then we could work together in real time to modify the designs," Goldstein added.
Researchers used the affordable and accessible MakerBot Replicator 2X Experimental 3D Printer that costs USD 2,499 and is a size that fits on a desktop.
The results of the study, presented at the Annual Meeting of The Society of Thoracic Surgeons in San Diego, illustrate how the 3D printed windpipe or trachea segments held up for four weeks in an incubator.
"The cells survived the 3D printing process, were able to continue dividing, and produced the extracellular matrix expected of tracheal chondrocytes," said Goldstein.
In other words, they were growing just like windpipe cartilage.