Tag Archives: inkjet printer

Printing new knee cartilage

I was reminded of the 1992 Olympics in Barcelona while reading the Nov. 22, 2012 news item on Nanowerk about printing cartilage for knees. Some years ago I knew a Canadian wrestler who’d participated in those games and he had a story about knee cartilage that featured amputation.

Apparently, wrestlers in earlier generations had knee surgeries that involved removal of cartilage for therapeutic purposes. Unfortunately, decades later, these retired wrestlers found that whatever cartilage had remained was now worn through and bones were grinding on bones causing such pain that more than one wrestler agreed to amputation. I never did check out the story but it rang true largely because I’d come across a similar story from a physiotherapist regarding  a shoulder joint and the consequences of losing cartilage in there (very, very painful).

It seems that scientists are now working on a solution for those of us unlucky enough to have damaged or worn through cartilage in our joints, from the Nov. 22, 2012 IOP science news release, (Institute of Physics) which originated the news item,

The printing of 3D tissue has taken a major step forward with the creation of a novel hybrid printer that simplifies the process of creating implantable cartilage.

The printer is a combination of two low-cost fabrication techniques: a traditional ink jet printer and an electrospinning machine. Combining these systems allowed the scientists to build a structure made from natural and synthetic materials. …

In this study, the hybrid system produced cartilage constructs with increased mechanical stability compared to those created by an ink jet printer using gel material alone. The constructs were also shown to maintain their functional characteristics in the laboratory and a real-life system.

The key to this was the use of the electrospinning machine, which uses an electrical current to generate very fine fibres from a polymer solution. Electrospinning allows the composition of polymers to be easily controlled and therefore produces porous structures that encourage cells to integrate into surrounding tissue.

In this study, flexible mats of electrospun synthetic polymer were combined, layer-by-layer, with a solution of cartilage cells from a rabbit ear that were deposited using the traditional ink jet printer. The constructs were square with a 10cm diagonal and a 0.4mm thickness.

The researchers tested their strength by loading them with variable weights and, after one week, tested to see if the cartilage cells were still alive.

The constructs were also inserted into mice for two, four and eight weeks to see how they performed in a real life system. After eight weeks of implantation, the constructs appeared to have developed the structures and properties that are typical of elastic cartilage, demonstrating their potential for insertion into a patient.

The researchers state that in a future scenario, cartilage constructs could be clinically applied by using an MRI scan of a body part, such as the knee, as a blueprint for creating a matching construct. A careful selection of scaffold material for each patient’s construct would allow the implant to withstand mechanical forces while encouraging new cartilage to organise and fill the defect.

The researchers’ article in the IOP science jouBiofrarnal, Biofabrication, is freely available for 30 days after its date of publication, Nov. 21, 2012. You do need to register with IOP science to gain access. Here’s the citation and a link,

Hybrid printing of mechanically and biologically improved constructs for cartilage tissue engineering applications by Tao Xu, Kyle W Binder, Mohammad Z Albanna, Dennis Dice, Weixin Zhao, James J Yoo and Anthony Atala in 2013 Biofabrication 5 015001 doi:10.1088/1758-5082/5/1/015001

I believe all of the scientists involved in this bioprinting project are with the Wake Forest Institute for Regenerative Medicine.

Using your microwave for DIY (do it yourself) solar panels?

The researchers at Oregon State University seem to think that their discovery will scale up to commercial levels for manufacturing solar panels that are cheaper and easier. Still, if all you need is a microwave, then I imagine some enterprising do-it-yourselfer will give this technique a try.

Microwave oven

This microwave oven technology is being used to produce solar cells with less energy, expense and environmental concerns. (Photo courtesy of Oregon State University Copied from: http://www.flickr.com/photos/oregonstateuniversity/7841150094/in/photostream)

From the Aug. 24, 2012 news item on Nanowerk,

The same type of microwave oven technology that most people use to heat up leftover food has found an important application in the solar energy industry, providing a new way to make thin-film photovoltaic products with less energy, expense and environmental concerns.

Engineers at Oregon State University have for the first time developed a way to use microwave heating in the synthesis of copper zinc tin sulfide, a promising solar cell compound that is less costly and toxic than some solar energy alternatives.

The Oregon State University Aug. 24, 2012 news release which originated the news item provides additional detail about the technology and future plans for commercializing it,

“All of the elements used in this new compound are benign and inexpensive, and should have good solar cell performance,” said Greg Herman, an associate professor in the School of Chemical, Biological and Environmental Engineering at OSU.

“Several companies are already moving in this direction as prices continue to rise for some alternative compounds that contain more expensive elements like indium,” he said. “With some improvements in its solar efficiency this new compound should become very commercially attractive.”

These thin-film photovoltaic technologies offer a low cost, high volume approach to manufacturing solar cells. A new approach is to create them as an ink composed of nanoparticles, which could be rolled or sprayed – by approaches such as old-fashioned inkjet printing – to create solar cells. [emphasis mine]

To further streamline that process, researchers have now succeeded in using microwave heating, instead of conventional heating, to reduce reaction times to minutes or seconds, and allow for great control over the production process. This “one-pot” synthesis is fast, cheap and uses less energy, researchers say, and has been utilized to successfully create nanoparticle inks that were used to fabricate a photovoltaic device.

From a do-it-yourself point of view, this technology sounds even more promising with the mention of an inkjet printer.

Printing bones

Apparently all you need is an inkjet printer and some researchers from Washington State University (WSU) at Pullman to create new bone. From the Nov. 29, 2011 news item (written by Eric Sorenson of WSU) on Nanowerk,

Washington State University researchers have used a 3D printer to create a bone-like material and structure that can be used in orthopedic procedures, dental work and to deliver medicine for treating osteoporosis. Paired with actual bone, it acts as a scaffold for new bone to grow on and ultimately dissolves with no apparent ill effects. [emphasis mine]

The authors report on successful in vitro tests in the journal Dental Materials (“Effects of silica and zinc oxide doping on mechanical and biological properties of 3D printed tricalcium phosphate tissue engineering scaffolds” [behind a paywall]) and say they’re already seeing promising results with in vivo tests on rats and rabbits. It’s possible that doctors will be able to custom order replacement bone tissue in a few years, said Susmita Bose, co-author and professor in WSU’s School of Mechanical and Materials Engineering.

The printer works by having an inkjet spray a plastic binder over a bed of powder in layers of 20 microns, about half the width of a human hair. Following a computer’s directions, it creates a channeled cylinder the size of a pencil eraser.

After just a week in a medium with immature human bone cells, the scaffold was supporting a network of new bone cells.

Here’s a video of Dr. Bose discussing the inkjet printer that produces bone-like material,

The Nov. 30, 2011 news item about the bone scaffolding work on BBC News adds more detail,

Prof Bose’s team have spent four years developing the bone-like substance.

Their breakthrough came when they discovered a way to double the strength of the main ceramic powder – calcium phosphate – by adding silica and zinc oxide.

To create the scaffold shapes they customised a printer which had originally been designed to make three-dimensional metal objects.

It sprayed a plastic binder over the loose powder in layers half as thick as the width of a human hair.

The process was repeated layer by layer until completed, at which point the scaffold was dried, cleaned and then baked for two hours at 1250C (2282F).

Earlier this year I highlighted a story about a trachea transplant where they used scaffolding to grow trachea cells in much the same way the WSU team is using a scaffolding to grow bone cells. Here are the posts about the trachea transplant and scaffolding from the first to the last,

Body parts nano style

Making nanotechnology-enabled body parts

More on synthetic windpipe; Swedes and Italians talk about nanoscience and medicine