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Scientists get 3D-bioprinted human cells to grow inside live mice

Why it matters to you

In an important advance on the road to 3D-printed body parts, scientists have shown how bioprinted human cartilage cells can grow inside a mouse.

In what represents an exciting advance for those hoping for 3D-printed body parts, researchers at Sweden’s Chalmers University of Technology and Sahlgrenska Academy have demonstrated the successful implantation of 3D-bioprinted human cartilage in mice.

The printing was carried out using Swedish company CellInk’s Inkredible bioprinter.

“This work involved the bioprinting of human stem cells and human chondrocytes in a biocompatible bioink with the aim to engineer cartilage tissue,” Héctor Martínez, chief technology and scientific officer of CellInk, told Digital Trends. “The engineered grafts were then implanted in a mice model to aid and study their maturation and development.”

3D-printed implants themselves are nothing new. What is new, and potentially transformative, about this work is that the human cartilage grew inside the mice, while blood vessels formed around the lattice-shaped 3D-printed material. After 60 days, what had developed looked a lot like cartilage, which was then stimulated through the addition of stem cells — thereby prompting further cell division.

“What makes this research exciting is the hope, one day, to overcome the limitations of conventional surgery and move closer to a future in which it will be possible to improve the health of people worldwide,” Matteo Amoroso, a consultant plastic surgeon who co-authored a paper on the work, told us. “Our results represent a small step forward, advancing the knowledge in this field, and we are happy for the contribution.”

As to what’s next, Héctor Martínez noted that extensive in-vitro and preclinical studies must now be carried out to assess the development of such engineered tissues, as well as what’s needed to control the tissue development. “That is, we must understand the efficacy and safety of the engineered tissue before it is translated to the clinic,” he said.

We may still be years away from this technology being available for humans, but there’s every reason to be cautiously optimistic.