Desktop 3D printing leader MakerBot has achieved a first for medical research and 3D printing as investigators at The Feinstein Institute for Medical Research have created custom tracheal scaffolding with standard MakerBot PLA filament on a MakerBot Replicator 2X Experimental 3D Printer.
Todd Goldstein, an investigator at the Feinstein Institute, has been working with a team of surgeons at the North Shore-LIJ Health System for the past year on determining if 3D printing and tissue engineering could be used for tracheal repair and replacement.
Lee Smith, MD, chief of paediatric otolaryngology at Cohen Children's Medical Centre and David Zeltsman, MD, chief of thoracic surgery at Long Island Jewish Medical Centre, offered the solution of 3D printing to to Goldstein and Daniel A. Grande, PhD, director of the Orthopaedic Research Laboratory at the Feinstein Institute. Smith and Zeltsman originally proposed that incorporating 3D printing and tissue engineering to grow new cartilage for airway construction might be possible in ten to 20 years but this recent development proved it can be done in just one month.
The process was a combination of 3D printing and tissue engineering. Researchers know how to make cartilage from a mixture of cells called chondrocytes, nutrients, and collagen. A 3D printer can construct scaffolding, which can be covered in a mixture of chondrocytes and collagen, which then grows into cartilage.
"Making a windpipe or trachea is uncharted territory," noted Mr. Goldstein. “With 3D printing, we were able to construct 3D-printed scaffolding that the surgeons could immediately examine and then we could work together in real time to modify the designs. MakerBot was extremely helpful and consulted on optimizing our design files so they would print better and provided advice on how to modify the MakerBot Replicator 2X Experimental 3D Printer to print with PLA and the biomaterial."
"The ability to prototype, examine, touch, feel and then redesign within minutes, within hours, allows for the creation of this type of technology," says Dr. Smith. "If we had to send out these designs to a commercial printer far away and get the designs back several weeks later, we'd never be where we are today."
The Feinstein Institute looked at other 3D printers that can extrude living cells, but the options were few and expensive, some around $180,000, so they chose to experiment with a MakerBot Replicator 2X Experimental with regular MakerBot PLA.
A two-inch-long section of windpipe takes less than two hours to print. The bio-ink is extruded during the 3D printing process and fills in gaps in the PLA scaffolding then cures into a gel on the heated build plate of the MakerBot Replicator 2X. Once the bio-ink adheres to the scaffolding, it goes into a bioreactor, an appliance like a rotisserie oven that keeps the cells warm and growing evenly. The bioreactor was made from a customised incubator with gears and other parts produced on their MakerBot Replicator Desktop 3D Printer.
Goldstein's commented: "The cells survived the 3D printing process, were able to continue dividing, and produced the extracellular matrix expected of tracheal chondrocytes.”
Right now the research is at the "proof of concept" stage as FDA approval can take years achieve. However the team is confident that they approach will prove invaluable in helping patients who cannot be treated with standard methods, particularly in children where the ability to tailor the size and permutation is paramount.
"Do you remember the Six Million Dollar Man?" asks Dr. Grande. "The Bionic Man is not the future, it's the present. We have that ability to do that now. It's really exciting."
MakerBot has supplied the Feinstein Institute with early samples of its recently announced MakerBot PLA Composite Filaments in Limestone and Iron, which will be available later this year.