Scientists in Gothenburg have successfully bioprinted cartilage using stem cells harvested from patients undergoing knee surgery.

As part of a collaborative project with Chalmers University of Technology, the team from Sahlgrenska Academy modified the cells to find the right combination whereby the stem cells could go through a 3D bioprinter and live to tell the tale.

“In nature, the differentiation of stem cells into cartilage is a simple process, but it’s much more complicated to accomplish in a test tube. We’re the first to succeed with it, and we did so without any animal testing whatsoever,” says Stina Simonsson, Associate Professor of Cell Biology, who lead the research team’s efforts.

The research – published in Scientific Reports – took three years. And the outcome is something very close in composition to human cartilage. The team is confident that it won’t be long before cartilage can be produced in this way, using an individual’s ‘backed-up’ stem cells. This will offer transformative treatments for people with osteoarthritis.

“We investigated various methods and combined different growth factors. Each individual stem cell is encased in nanocellulose, which allows it to survive the process of being printed into a 3D structure. We also harvested mediums from other cells that contain the signals that stem cells use to communicate with each other so called conditioned medium. In layman’s terms, our theory is that we managed to trick the cells into thinking that they aren’t alone,” added Stina Simonsson. Therefore the cells multiplied before we differentiated them.