Editorial Feature

Treat Arthritis and Other Ailments with 3D Printing

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By Angela Betsaida B. Laguipo, BSN, RN

Arthritis is one of the most debilitating joint disorders in the world today. It negatively impacts quality of life, due to impairments in mobility and posture. Many arthritis sufferers experience extreme pain and swelling, limiting their movements and ability to work.

What is Arthritis?

Arthritis is also called joint inflammation. There are more than a hundred different types of arthritis and related conditions, with osteoarthritis and rheumatoid the most common.

Rheumatoid arthritis is an autoimmune disease where the immune system attacks the membrane lining the joints. It occurs more frequently in women than in men. Tissue damage may cause chronic pain, lack of balance and deformity.

On the other hand, osteoarthritis is a degenerative joint disease or “wear and tear” arthritis. It occurs because of the changes in the joints, including cartilage breakdown, that happen over time. The common symptoms of osteoarthritis are pain, swelling and stiffness.

In the United States, over 54 million adults have arthritis. Of these, 24 million experience limited mobility in their activities from arthritis. Osteoarthritis is the most common form of arthritis, affecting 10% of men and 13% of women aged 60 years or older.

What is 3D Printing?

Bioprinting or 3D printing is a state-of-the-art technique to combine cells and growth factors to form living structures. The approach could revolutionize regenerative medicine, which can be helpful for patients with degenerative disorders, including arthritis.

The 3D printing technique can help produce complex tissues and cartilage that can provide support and repair damaged areas of the body. There are various studies that can attest to the efficacy of 3D printing in treating arthritis and other degenerative diseases.  

At present, bioprinting is applied to print tissues and organs to aid in discovering treatments and drugs. Other applications of 3D printing include scaffold printing to help regenerate ligaments and joints, particularly focusing on treating arthritis and other related conditions.

How Does 3D Printing Work in the Treatment of Arthritis?

In 3D printing, living tissues can be inserted into the body to provoke a damaged joint to regenerate and self-repair. Bioprinting is the ability to print new cartilage using the patient’s own cells as the building blocks.

Recent advances in bioprinting have allowed tissue engineers to assemble cells, signaling molecules and biomaterials into anatomically relevant functional tissues or organ parts.

Scientists use computer-aided design (CAD) and computer-aided manufacturing (CAM) to place cells, biomolecules and biomaterials precisely in spatially predefined locations in the body. Today, scaffold-free fabrication has gained popularity due to its ability to recapitulate tissue biology through self-assembly, mimicking the embryonic development process.

A new product named “3D JOINT Project”, which is funded under the EU’s Horizon 2020 Vision, shows promise in the building of 3D printers and the deposition of stem cells.

In the project, 3D printing will be used after an accurate medical blueprint. The 3D printers will deposit stem cells to make complex tissues by layer. The donor stem cells and hydrogels, which are materials that contain large molecules like polymers, can produce living conditions for organisms in the human body.

The material needs to be capable of keeping the cells alive. Hence, aqueous conditions should be maintained, along with low temperatures. These conditions mean hydrogel-based materials are ideal candidates for this application.

In a study, the researchers at the Center for Engineering in Medicine, Massachusetts General Hospital in Boston fabricated and engineered scaffold-free scalable tissue strands as a possible and effective bioink material for bioprinting applications.

For the first time, without a mold or scaffold, they were able to bioprint tissue strands in solid forms. This could pave the way for a therapeutic prospect for diseases, revolutionizing the concept of traditional tissue engineering and regenerative medicine.

In another study, researchers at the University of Oxford developed a new method that could help reform regenerative health and medicine where 3D-print laboratory-grown cells form living structures.

Bioprinting will enable the production of cartilage and tissues that can help repair, augment and support damaged areas of the body. In fact, 3D printing has been viewed as a promising new way to formulate treatments for arthritis and other conditions.

Sources and Further Reading

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