A microbiologist at the Central Queensland University is using 3D printing with human stem cells and crocodile cartilage in order to discover a new way to treat arthritis and joint injuries. Led by Pardraig Strappe the researchers have been working to perfect a process to extract growth factors from the cartilage of crocodiles and remove proteins that trigger an immune response in humans. "That gives us a soup or a glue that might promote our own adult stem cells, stem cells we take from fat tissue or bone marrow, to become cartilage," Dr Stappe said. "We hope that might promote cartilage repair, which is a big challenge and becoming more so in elderly populations." For more information see the IDTechEx report on 3D bioprinting.
Near the University's Rockhampton campus is Koorana Crocodile Farm, which produces crocodile meat for the Australian market and also exports skins for the fashion industry. Dr. Strappe said, "They are very innovative in looking at new ways to use waste products, which essentially for them is cartilage. A crocodile has very big articulating joints so it needs a lot of cartilage to maintain that movement." This resulted in a mutually beneficial relationship between the university and the crocodile farm. Dr Strappe used cartilage from young crocodiles' throat areas for his testing.
A CELLINK 3D bioprinter is used to fabricate cartilage explants, which can hopefully ultimately be implanted or injected in damaged human joints.
Dr. Strappe explained, "If you have a traumatic injury to the articulating joint, particularly the knee, you are left with a crack or a fissure and that doesn't have an endogenous repair system because cartilage doesn't have a blood supply. You are left with a hole that needs to be filled in. With 3D printing we can mimic that hole or that gap so potentially the orthopaedic surgeon could fill in that gap with a little cartilage explant to repair the joint."
The team is focussed on maintaining its project funding, as well as looking for support from biotechnology companies for the development and marketing of the technology.
Top image: Koorana Crocodile Farm