The Smart Magazine About Medical Technology Innovations

#15 - 3D Printing in Surgery

3D Printing Cartilage in Clinical Testing


Courtesy of ETH Zurich

Never a dull moment in the 3D printing and bioprinting field, scientists are moving forward on cell-friendly bioinks. On board for discussion during the 3D Medical Expo at MECC in Maastricht, The Netherlands in late January: cartilage regeneration and biomimetic scaffolds.


“It’s still in its early stages,” Dr. Marcy Zenobi-Wong said in an interview with MedicalExpo during the event. She leads the Cartilage Engineering + Regeneration research team at ETH Zurich, one of the leading technical universities in the world.

During her presentation, “BioPrinting Cartilage,” she spoke of “bioinks based on regulatory-compliant polysaccharides being developed which undergo cell-friendly gelation and yield a strong, ductile material.” They’re now making bioinks more tissue-specific and bioactive by adding micronized extracellular matrix particles to the mix.

The bioink supports proliferation and deposition of matrix proteins. This versatile bioprinting method can produce patient-specific cartilage grafts with good mechanical and biological properties.

Mixing Cells with Bioink

“We’re working on facial reconstruction,” Zenobi-Wong explained her team’s current research on bioprint solutions for those missing a part of their ear or nose from trauma or cancer. The steps begin with a biopsy of the patient’s tissue.

You need to start with cells from the patient. Isolate the cells from the biopsy, put them in culture in order to have a large number and then mix them with, what we call, bioink. The shape would be based on the CT.

Her team is moving forward on a bioprint solution for microtia which would “replace surgical procedures.” They also founded the company CellSpring which develops 3D printed microtissues for drug screening.


Courtesy of ETH Zurich

Courtesy of ETH Zurich

Cartilage Implants, Thinking End-use

While cartilage has already been bioprinted, the creation of “end-use” cartilage implants may require accurately and efficiently 3D printed biomimetic scaffolds.

Dr. Lorenzo Moroni and the team from MERLN Institute for Technology-Inspired Regenerative Medicine at Maastricht University began a study entitled “Multiscale fabrication of biomimetic scaffolds for tympanic membrane tissue engineering.”

Lorenzo and his team focused on 3D printing scaffolds without the use of cellular materials in the bioprinting process. They printed the scaffolds with EnvisionTEC’s 3D bioplotter, considered a bioprinter for cellular materials. However, they did not use cellular materials, but polymer based mixtures that are biodegradable and biocompatible.



80 People Walking, Literally, with 3D Printed Knee Constructs

“There have been more and more clinical translations for smart implants with additive manufacturing technologies,” Moroni told MedicalExpo in an interview at MERLN Institute. “Enough knowledge has been created over the last ten years or more in terms of how to optimize the implant structural and surface properties to have a proper interface with cells.

For bioprinting and the different applications, we will have to wait at least another five to ten years before we see the first number of clinical cases being tested.

Courtesy of 3D Printer

Courtesy of 3D Printer

Thirteen years ago, Moroni and his collaborators began working on an implant project to 3D-print scaffolds for knee cartilage. After 3D printing the scaffold, he and his team at CellCoTec strategically plant a patient’s cells and watch the cartilage grow.

The first four years, they gathered research and focused on creation; this was then taken up by the CellCoTec team. This step was followed by four years of developing the application to make sure it was up to industrial standards.

The project has been in clinical trial since 2010 and is on the market; clinical data is still collected to support reimbursement for this novel treatment. “There are about 80 people that are walking with those implants.”


About the Author

Erin Tallman, writer for MedicalExpo e-magazine and Editor-in-Chief of ArchiExpo e-magazine.

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