3D-printed custom cartilage could repair noses after skin cancer
Researchers at the University of Alberta have developed a new technique for 3D printing cartilage in custom shapes. This can be used to reconstruct the noses of skin cancer patients, saving them the trouble of having cartilage samples taken from other parts of the body.
The nose is one of the most common places for skin cancer to form – understandable, given how much sun it’s exposed to. Treatment often requires the removal of sections of skin and cartilage but, given the nose’s prominence on the face, people will want those deformities patched up.
Usually, that’s done using cartilage taken from another part of the body, such as the ribs. But that in turn raises more problems – it’s invasive, can lead to further complications, and the cartilage samples don’t always blend well with the shape of the nose.
In the new study, the Alberta team grew replacement cartilage in the lab. This solves both problems, since samples don’t need to be taken from elsewhere in the body and they can be shaped exactly as needed to fit into their new home.
The team harvested human nasal cartilage cells, then mixed them with a hydrogel made from cow collagen. This was then 3D bioprinted into the required shape and left to culture for about four weeks. During that time, it becomes functional cartilage, ready to be transplanted into a patient.
“This is to the benefit of the patient,” says Adetola Adesida, corresponding author of the study. “They can go on the operating table, have a small biopsy taken from their nose in about 30 minutes, and from there we can build different shapes of cartilage specifically for them. We can even bank the cells and use them later to build everything needed for the surgery. This is what this technology allows you to do.”
Other studies have attempted to 3D print and grow cartilage, but usually it’s made to repair knee injuries, which require a different form of the tissue. Alternatives for reshaping nasal cartilage include “molecular surgery,” which involves tiny electrified needles making the tissue more malleable – but this is more for cosmetic surgery than reconstruction.
The Alberta researchers will next test how well the new lab-grown cartilage performs after being transplanted into animals, and they hope to test it in humans in the next two or three years.
The research was published in the FASEB Journal. A video of the hydrogel mixture being 3D printed can be seen below.
Source: University of Alberta