Researchers at the University of Alberta have developed a method for 3D-printing cartilage-like materials consisting of a collagen hydrogel containing human chondrocytes. The printed structures mimic human nasal cartilage in terms of their mechanical, molecular, and histological features. Researchers hope the technology can lead to custom cartilage implants for skin cancer patients who have nasal cartilage defects after surgery to remove their tumors.
The nose is a common site for skin cancer, and in many of these patients, removal of the cancerous lesions will cause cartilage defects. Currently, surgeons will remove cartilage from a rib and implant it in the nose to try to correct these defects, but this approach has significant disadvantages.
“When surgeons restructure their nose, it’s straight. But when it adapts to its new environment, it goes through a period of remodeling where it deforms, almost like the curvature of the rib, ”said Adetola Adesida, a researcher involved in the study. “Visually on the face, this is a problem. The other issue is that you open the rib compartment, which protects the lungs, just to restructure the nose. It is a very vital anatomical location. The patient could have a collapsed lung and has a much higher risk of dying.
This new approach avoids these limitations and involves harvesting a small amount of cartilage from the nose to extract the chondrocytes that reside there. They are then mixed with a collagen hydrogel and printed in 3D with a custom shape specifically designed to fill in this patient’s cartilage defects.
“This is for the benefit of the patient. They can go to the operating table, get a small biopsy of the nose in about 30 minutes, and from there we can build different forms of cartilage specifically for them, ”said Adesida. “We can even save the cells and use them later to build everything needed for surgery. That’s what makes this technology possible. “
The printed structures are then grown for a period of four weeks to allow them to mature, before being implanted. “It takes a lifetime to make cartilage in an individual, while this method takes about four weeks. Therefore, still expect some degree of maturity to occur, especially when implanted in the body. But functionally it is able to do the things that cartilage does, ”Adesida said.
The researchers plan to test the implants in animal models and, if successful, hope to conduct a clinical trial. Hopefully, a version of this technology can also lead to stronger cartilage-like materials that can be implanted in the joints to replace injured or worn natural cartilage.
Here is a video of the new material that is printed in 3D: