Research scientists at the University of Toronto and several other universities in Ontario,including Queens, Waterloo, McMaster and Guelph are now undertaking a collaborative project, covering a number of disciplines, with the hope of creating biological joint replacements using 3D printing technology.
The benefits are that the joints can be individually custom-made for individuals and will last much longer than artificially made joints that are usually made of plastics and or metals.
Dr. Rita Kandel, chief of pathology at Mount Sinai Hospital is one of the members of the team involved in the study, and also director of the program at the University of Toronto. She outlines the process that begins with X-rays of the damaged joint. Using porous biological material, the 3D printer reconstructs the bone in shape and size, and the patient's cartilage is integrated into the replacement. With the integration of cartilage, bone cells are allowed to grow and develop in the porous substrate, which eventually degenerates, leaving the individual's grown cartilage and bone structure.
With the continual aging of the population, joint replacement surgeries are becoming much more common. Every year more than 4 million people may have joints replaced. It is not just sufferers of arthritis and older people who are having joint replacement, but Kandel explains that younger people, and many who sustain injuries from impacts or sports often need joint replacement to relieve pain and disabilities.
Artificial joint replacement is becoming routine, but the procedures are not without risks, and replaced joints may last for an average of 15 years, after which the synthesized material may begin to disintegrate. The surgery which is often the last resort, is not seen as a longer-lasting solution, but with this new technique, the researchers hope that artificially made joints will eventually be replaced by biological material. Plastic and metal objects in the body cannot be repaired, and there currently is no suitable long-term solution for joint disorders. When the cartilage fails, it can lead the development of osteoarthritis , which many people learn to live with, although it can be extremely painful and very uncomfortable.
The research focuses on the generation of an implant that is made of the patients cells, and with the generation of the tissue, a native joint will be reconstructed, as the body regeneration will be promoted from the biological joint.
The research is still in the very early stages, but the team expects that the procedure can become a way of the future, and hope that clinical trials become possible within five years as the development advances.