Rocky Tuan, PhD, is a professor and executive vice chairman of the department of orthopedic surgery as well as the director of the Center for Cellular and Molecular Engineering at the University of Pittsburgh School of Medicine developing 3D printed cartilage with the EnvisionTEC Perfactory. This research is the first success of living human cartilage tissue composed atop a chip using 3D printing.
The process to create cartilage fuses stem cells, activating biological components, and a tissue scaffolding. Tuan's team uses DLP technology to fabricate an extracellular matrix inside a solution — cells are then introduced into the solution where they may proliferate. The light technology of the Perfactory is best for an application building with living cells– some 3D printing processes which use filaments or deposition would harm human cells while photopolymers preserve cell vitality. The amalgamation not only can sustain the shape in which it is designed — that is, in the shape of a potential patient's defibrillated or damaged cartilage — the research team has found it can also sustain human cells.
Though the research isn't ready to take the place of non-organic replacement joints, as Tuan has said, "It's very promising and looking good." At the least the research developed by the team can help scientists better understand what causes osteoarthritis and how to combat degenerative bone diseases with drug therapy.
The researchers use the chip to study effects on human joints in order to be able to comprehensively fight osteoarthritis and bone degeneration. This research may also eventually aid United States soldiers with traumatic injuries incurred in Iraq and Afghanistan. Pitt's Center for Cellular and Molecular Engineering works in a partnership with Wake Forest University, the University of Pittsburgh Medical Center (UPMC) and the U.S. Department of Defense's Armed Forces Institute of Regenerative Medicine (est. 2008), a cooperative which seeks to develop treatment for soldiers wounded in battle abroad.