Can 3D bioprinting offer hope for microtia treatment?


No doubt many of us have watched videos on social media of a “human ear” being 3D printed in a lab, indeed, many of us will be the ones posting such clips, where we use the complex structure of the ear to demonstrate the printability and performance of a bio-ink material. Besides the visually engaging results, it is worth to consider how such 3D bioprinting technology can offer real hope for patients with conditions such as microtia.

Microtia is a birth defect where the external ear is underdeveloped. Although there are several different options for auricular reconstruction, today the ‘Rib Cartilage Graft Reconstruction’ is the most effective. This treatment is based on sculpting the patient’s own rib cartilage into the form of an ear. Because the cartilage is the patient’s own living tissue, the reconstructed ear continues to grow as the child does. This is a very detailed and complicated surgical procedure with associated high-risk as well as chest-wall deformities.

3D bioprinting technology aims to create transplantable organs by applying cell-supporting bio-inks. One of the leading research areas of this technology focuses on the development of cartilage tissues for use in reconstructive surgery. This process aims to utilize the natural self-organizing properties of cells in order to produce a functional tissue. Although bioprinting technology is a promising method in itself, the properties of the bio-inks required are also crucial for the development of functional living tissues such as cartilage.

Synthetic biocompatible polymers and peptides have been utilized to develop hydrogels for cartilage tissue engineering. Their properties can be controlled and custom-designed to match the requirements of a given cell type. This is especially true for peptide-based hydrogels, in which the physical and the biomimetic properties can be tailored.

In the last few years, there has been a huge variety of research in cartilage bioprinting techniques, cell types, and bio-inks which have demonstrated the promising potential of such advanced bio-manufacturing process. Today this technology still has many challenges. However, it is hoped that in the future 3D bioprinting as a process to create transplantable cartilage can be translated into clinical practice and can provide a low-risk surgical solution for diseases such as Microtia.


Source: Daniel J.Thomas, Could 3D bioprinted tissues offer future hope for microtia treatment? International Journal of Surgery, Volume 32, August 2016, Pages 43-44


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