Using 3D printing, investigators from the non-profit Feinstein Institute for Medical Research here have created cartilage designed for tracheal repair or replacement.
The trachea or windpipe is a large membranous tube reinforced by rings of cartilage, conveying air to and from the lungs.
This is a first for medical research where MakerBot Replicator 2X Experimental 3D Printer was used to print a custom tracheal scaffolding, which was combined with living cells to create a tracheal segment.
Image credit: MakerBot and the Feinstein Institute
Tracheal damage can be caused by tumour, endotracheal intubation, blunt trauma and other injuries. Narrowing and weakness of the trachea can also occur and is often difficult to repair. The team combined two emerging fields: 3D printing and tissue engineering.
"Making a windpipe or trachea is uncharted territory. It has to be rigid enough to withstand coughs, sneezes and other shifts in pressure, yet flexible enough to allow the neck to move freely," the authors said.
With 3D printing, they 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.
A two-inch-long section of windpipe takes less than two hours to print.
"The research being done at the Feinstein Institute is exciting and promising," said Jenny Lawton, CEO of MakerBot.
The results of the study, presented at the annual meeting of the Society of Thoracic Surgeons recently, illustrated how the 3D printed windpipe or trachea segments held up for four weeks in an incubator.
The cells survived the 3D printing process, were able to continue dividing, and produced the extracellular matrix expected of tracheal chondrocytes. In other words, they were growing just like windpipe cartilage.
The Feinstein Institute describes this work as a "proof of concept".
The team still has work to do before establishing a new protocol for repairing damaged windpipes.