Baby boomers have a lot in common. One thing is the need for joint replacements. The annual number of knee and hip replacements is nearly one million. Looking ahead we may not have enough surgeons to meet the demand. The demand comes from injury, overuse, and arthritic deterioration of cartilage. We have all heard the phrase, “I am down to bone on bone”. Breakthroughs in 3-D printing may bring new solutions.
The cartilage that provides a cushion, like a shock absorber, between your thighbone and shinbone is called the meniscus. It is very common for active people to tear the meniscus. There are surgical options to treat a torn meniscus, but in many cases this can lead to further deterioration. As I reported here in July 2016, researchers have developed a new water-based polymer gel which is extremely tough, flexible and formable, yet highly lubricating. It has all the mechanical properties of native cartilage and can withstand wear and tear without fracturing.
The next step will be actually 3-D printing a meniscus. A Canadian biotechnology company, Aspect Biosystems, a leader in the field of bioprinting and tissue engineering, is working with a healthcare specialty products company to put bioprinting on the map. The collaboration is being facilitated by pharmaceutical giant Johnson & Johnson. The result may be a bioprinted knee meniscus which can be surgically implanted.