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3D Printing Could Help Regenerate Meniscus

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A promising new method for regenerating the meniscus, the knee´s protective lining, has been developed in the United States.

Researchers at Columbia University Medical Center believe that their development could provide a more effective and long-lasting repair of damaged menisci.

The new approach replaces a damaged meniscus using a personalised 3D-printed implant which is infused with human growth factors that prompt the body to regenerate the lining on its own. The therapy has been successfully tested in sheep (whose knee closely resembles that of humans).

“This is a departure from classic tissue engineering, in which stems cells are harvested from the body, manipulated in the laboratory, and then returned to the patient – an approach that has met with limited success,” said study leader Jeremy Mao, DDS, PhD, the Edwin S. Robinson Professor of Dentistry (in Orthopaedic Surgery) at Columbia University Medical Center. “In contrast, we´re jump-starting the process within the body, using factors that promote endogenous stem cells for tissue regeneration.”

For a meniscus to properly form, the proteins must be released in specific areas of the scaffold in a particular order. This is accomplished by encapsulating the proteins in two types of slow-dissolving polymeric microspheres.

In sheep, the meniscus regenerated in about four to six weeks. The scaffold eventually dissolves and is eliminated by the body.

After three months the treated animals were walking normally. A later postmortem analysis showed that the regenerated meniscus had structural and mechanical properties very similar to those of natural meniscus.

“This research, although preliminary, demonstrates the potential for an innovative approach to meniscus regeneration,” said co-author Scott Rodeo, MD, sports medicine orthopaedic surgeon and researcher at the Hospital for Special Surgery in New York City.

“This would potentially be applicable to the many patients who undergo meniscus removal each year,” he added.

The researchers are now conducting additional studies to determine whether the regenerated tissue is long-lasting.

A paper detailing their findings has been published in the online edition of Science Translational Medicine.