Using 3D Printing, MakerBot and Feinstein Institute for Medical Research Create Cartilage to Repair Tracheal Damage

Results are showcased at 51st Annual Meeting of The Society of Thoracic Surgeons

SAN DIEGO — (BUSINESS WIRE) — January 27, 2015 — Investigators at The Feinstein Institute for Medical Research have made a medical breakthrough using 3D printing on a MakerBot® Replicator® 2X Experimental 3D Printer to create cartilage designed for tracheal repair or replacement. The results were reported today at the 51st Annual Meeting of The Society of Thoracic Surgeons in San Diego, in a presentation by Todd Goldstein, an investigator at the Feinstein Institute, part of the North Shore-LIJ Health System. This is a first for medical research where regular MakerBot PLA Filament was used to 3D print a custom tracheal scaffolding, which was combined with living cells to create a tracheal segment.

Daniel A. Grande, PhD, director of the Orthopedic Research Laboratory at the Feinstein Institute, an ...

Daniel A. Grande, PhD, director of the Orthopedic Research Laboratory at the Feinstein Institute, and Todd Goldstein, an investigator at the Feinstein Institute, part of the North Shore-LIJ Health System, with their MakerBot Replicator Desktop 3D Printer that they used to 3D print cartilage to repair tracheal damage. (Photo: Business Wire)

Mr. Goldstein, a PhD candidate at the Hofstra North Shore-LIJ School of Medicine, has been working with a team of surgeons at the North Shore-LIJ Health System for the past year on determining if 3D printing and tissue engineering could be used for tracheal repair and replacement. Tracheal damage can be caused by tumor, endotracheal intubation, blunt trauma, and other injuries. Narrowing and weakness of the trachea can occur and are often difficult to repair. There have been two traditional means of reconstructing a damaged trachea, but both techniques have limitations. Lee Smith, MD, chief of pediatric otolaryngology at Cohen Children's Medical Center and David Zeltsman, MD, chief of thoracic surgery at Long Island Jewish Medical Center, both part of the North Shore-LIJ Health System, came to Mr. Goldstein and Daniel A. Grande, PhD, director of the Orthopedic Research Laboratory at the Feinstein Institute, and asked if 3D printing might offer a solution. Drs. Smith and Zeltsman originally surmised that incorporating 3D printing and tissue engineering to grow new cartilage for airway construction might be possible in ten to 20 years. Mr. Goldstein and Dr. Grande did it in a month.

The Feinstein Institute’s research combined two emerging fields: 3D printing and tissue engineering. Tissue engineering is like other kinds of engineering, except instead of using steel or computer code to make things, living cells from skin, muscle or cartilage are the raw material. Researchers at the Feinstein Institute know how to make cartilage from a mixture of cells called chondrocytes, nutrients to feed them, and collagen, which holds it all together. Shaping that cartilage into a nose or a windpipe is another matter. That’s where 3D printing comes in. A 3D printer can construct scaffolding, which can be covered in a mixture of chondrocytes and collagen, which then grows into cartilage.

“Making a windpipe or trachea is uncharted territory,” noted Mr. Goldstein. “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. With 3D printing, we 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. MakerBot was extremely helpful and consulted on optimizing our design files so they would print better and provided advice on how to modify the MakerBot Replicator 2X Experimental 3D Printer to print with PLA and the biomaterial. We actually found designs to modify the printer on MakerBot’s Thingiverse website to print PLA with one extruder and the biomaterial with the other extruder. We 3D printed the needed parts with our other MakerBot Replicator Desktop 3D Printer, and used them to modify the MakerBot Replicator 2X Experimental 3D Printer so that we could better iterate and test our ideas.”

“The ability to prototype, examine, touch, feel and then redesign within minutes, within hours, allows for the creation of this type of technology,” says Dr. Smith. “If we had to send out these designs to a commercial printer far away and get the designs back several weeks later, we'd never be where we are today.”

The Feinstein Institute had looked previously at other 3D printers that can extrude living cells, but the options are few and expensive. One special bio printer cost $180,000, an amount that the Institute would not allocate. They wanted to test their concept and see if it would be viable, so they decided to use the more affordable and accessible MakerBot Replicator 2X Experimental 3D Printer that retails for $2,499 and is a size that fits on a desktop.

Originally, Mr. Goldstein thought that he would need special PLA to maintain sterility and have the ability to dissolve in the body. However, in light of time, they decided to try regular MakerBot PLA Filament. “The advantage of PLA is that it’s used in all kinds of surgical implant devices,” says Dr. Smith. Through testing, Mr. Goldstein found that the heat from the extruder head sterilized the PLA as it printed, so he was able to use ordinary MakerBot PLA Filament.

The bio-ink, which stays at room temperature, is extruded during the 3D printing process and fills in gaps in the PLA scaffolding, then cures into a gel on the heated build plate of the MakerBot Replicator 2X. A two-inch-long section of windpipe — shaped like a hollowed-out Tootsie Roll — takes less than two hours to print. Once the bio-ink adheres to the scaffolding, it goes into a bioreactor, an appliance like a rotisserie oven that keeps the cells warm and growing evenly. A new bioreactor costs between $50,000 and $150,000, so Mr. Goldstein customized an incubator for his needs, making gears and other parts on their MakerBot Replicator Desktop 3D Printer to produce a brand new bioreactor.

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