Novel 3D bioprinting method for creating ligaments and tendons from a patient’s own cells


Dr Robby Bowles and his team at the University of Utah have developed a 3D bioprinting method that allows them to lay down human cells in a controlled manner to produce human musculoskeletal tissue.

Ligaments and tendons are both made up of fibrous connective tissue. Ligaments appear as crisscross bands that attach bone to bone and help stabilize joints. Tendons, located at each end of a muscle, attach muscle to bone. Their injury is often the result of habitual movements and can cause constant pain and body mechanics issues for the sufferer. Whilst current treatments, can include the replacement of these tissues using tissue harvested from another part of the patient’s body, often these samples do not meet the requirements  Furthermore, the treatment requires a long recovery period, and there is the risk of an unsuccessful outcome in many cases.

Dr Bowles, assisstant professor of biomedical engineering, and his team have developed a novel 3D bioprinting technology capable of mimicking the complex cell gradients and transitions characteristic of musculoskeletal tissues, allowing the development of long-term solutions for patients with ligaments or tendons issues. Bowles’s technology is based on stem cells taken from the patients’ own body fat. These cells are printed on a layer of hydrogel in highly controlled manner to form a tendon or ligament. Then they grow in vitro before implanting them in a patient. This treatment would improve recovery outcomes since it would eliminate the need for tissue-replacement surgeries. “It will allow patients to receive replacement tissues without additional surgeries and without having to harvest tissue from other sites, which has its own source of problems,” said Bowles in a University of Utah press release.

3D bioprinting ligaments or tendons is an extremely complicated process because they are made up of different cells in complex patterns. “For example, cells that make up the tendon or ligament must then gradually shift to bone cells, so the tissue can attach to the bone,” explained Dr Bowles. To provide resolution for this issue, Dr Bowles and his team have developed a unique printhead which allows them to create a pattern and organizations of cells. “It allows us to very specifically put cells where we want them,” said Bowles. The technology currently is designed for creating ligaments, tendons and spinal discs, but “it literally could be used for any type of tissue engineering application, or it could be applied to the 3D printing of whole organs”. Bowles believes that the novel printhead could be compatible with any kind of 3D bioprinter in the future.

More information:

Robby Bowles assistant professor of bioengineering


D. Ede, N. Davidoff, A. Blitch, N.Farhang, and R. D. Bowles, TISSUE ENGINEERING: Part C, 2018,24, 9, 546 The University of Utah, Press release (Oct 2018):


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