Scientists from the Feinstein Institute for Medical Research have developed a new way to combine two emerging fields, 3-D Printing and Tissue Engineering, to create a tracheal segment. The scientists begin by using a normal 3-D printer and PLA Filament to print out a scaffold. Then, they cover the scaffold with a mixture of cells called chondrocytes, nutrients to feed them, and collagen, which holds it all together. Finally, they place the product into a bioreactor, so that the organic material can grow over the scaffold.
Tracheal injuries can occur in a variety of forms including a tumor, endotracheal intubation, blunt trauma, and other injuries. Narrowing and weakness of the trachea can occur and are often difficult to repair. There are currently only two treatment options, both of which have limitations on their effectiveness. Even recent methods using bio-printers have drawbacks, namely their time and costs. Using a regular 3-D printer cuts the time and costs of making the tracheal segment by a significant amount, meaning patients would have less down time between injury and recovery and pay less for the treatment.
The Feinstein Institute is excited by these results, but maintains that at this stage the work is currently a “proof of concept.” Medical research can take 5 to 10 years or more before gaining approval from the FDA, and even longer still to be part of common medical practices. While there is still a long way to go, research like this shows that there are many possibilities for new treatment methods in these cutting-edge medical frontiers.