Ear out of the 3-D printer

Nanocellulose hydrogel as a device for biomedical implants

The framework for a new ear - from the 3-D printer © Empa
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Printed implant: In future, a hydrogel from the 3D printer could form scaffolds for medical implants - for example, cartilage replacement in ears or knee joints. The new implant scaffolds are made of nanocellulose, a material derived from wood. Together with a biopolymer, it can be printed in the desired shape and then populated with living cells.

3D printing is no longer just a tool of industry and technology - it can also be useful in medicine. For example, various silicone implants have already been produced using 3D printing, and even biological tissues such as functional human skin or artificial ovaries have been produced with specialty printers. Another area of ​​application for 3D printing is the use in tissue engineering: on customized biocompatible scaffolds, researchers can cultivate cells and thus cultivate tissues and organs for medicine.

Cartilage replacement of nanocellulose

Researchers led by Michael Hausmann from the Federal Materials Testing and Research Institute Empa have now produced such an organ framework using 3D printing. The special feature: This 3D framework consists of nanocellulose, a biomaterial derived from wood. "Nanocellulose in viscous form can be excellently shaped into complex spatial shapes with the bioplotter, " explains Hausmann. The result is a hydrous gel.

Once cured, the structure of the nanocellulose hydrogel remains stable despite its delicacy. This framework can then be filled with the body's own cells and active ingredients to produce biomedical implants. For example, if cartilage cells can be integrated into the framework, implants for people with cartilage diseases or cartilaginous malformations could be created by means of 3-D pressure.

A new auricle

As the researchers explain, the ear-shaped nanocellulose-based composites could, for example, serve as an implant for children with congenital auricle malformation. In the case of the so-called microtia, for example, the outer ears are only incompletely formed. With a reconstruction of the auricle, the malformation is remedied cosmetically, but also medically, since otherwise the hearing can be severely limited. Even after accidents destroyed earcups could be rebuilt so. display

In the further course of the project, the researchers also want to use the nanocellulose-containing hydrogels for knee joint implants in joint wear, such as chronic arthritis. This is because the structure, mechanical capacity and interaction of nanocellulose with its environment can be varied by incorporating active ingredients and materials. "Even active ingredients that promote the growth of cartilage cells or relieve joint inflammation can be incorporated into the hydrogel, " says Hausmann.

Once the implant has been implanted in the body, some of the material may biodegrade and dissolve in the body over time. Although nanocellulose itself is not degraded, it is nevertheless well suited as a biocompatible material as an implant device. "In addition, the mechanical properties of nanocellulose make it an elegant candidate, as the tiny but stable fibers, for example, absorb traction very well, " says Hausmann.

Source: Empa - Confederation of Materials Testing and Research

- Nadja Podbregar