Engineers of the University of Utah Develop Process To 3D Print Musculoskeletal Tissues

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3D printing is a method of computer controlled construction which can produce a extremely wide-ranging array of products, including prosthetic modules, guns, toys and even food. A research team from the University of Utah, however, recently discovered a process by which they could utilize 3D printing to manufacture human cells which are able to produce ligaments and tendons. The process involves extracting stem cells from a patient’s fat and then printing them in a hydrogel layer, where it can develop in a culture and then be implanted. This would then allow patients with ligament, tendon or disc damage to increase their recovery rate. According to paper co-author, Robby Bowles, the process, “-will allow patients to receive replacement tissues without additional surgeries and without having to harvest tissue from other sites-.”

Paper title and abstract reproduced below.

Microfluidic Flow Cell Array for Controlled Cell Deposition in Engineered Musculoskeletal Tissues

Musculoskeletal tissues contain critical gradients in extracellular matrix (ECM) composition and cell types that allow for proper mechanical function of tissues and integration between adjacent tissues. However, properly controlling these patterns in engineered tissues is difficult and tissue engineering (TE) is presently in need of methods to generate integration zones for tissue anchoring, transition zones between tissues, and controlled ECM gradients for proper mechanical function. In this study, we present a novel method of using a microfluidic flow cell array (MFCA) to precisely control cell deposition onto TE constructs to produce tunable cell patterns on engineered constructs. In this study, we characterized MFCA cell deposition to efficiently and reliably deposit cells in controllable patterns and densities. We developed methods for deposition of human adipose-derived stem cells and human osteoblasts using a 12-channel pilot printhead. We mimicked key gradients and transitions by creating two-cell and three-cell-type transitions characteristic of the integration zones of musculoskeletal tissues. Overall, we demonstrate the ability to precisely and reproducibly control cell deposition on engineered constructs using this method and control cell population gradients. We establish the production of multicell transitions and multicell interfaces utilizing MFCA cell deposition, to demonstrate the potential of the method to create an extensive variety of engineered musculoskeletal tissues. Furthermore, customization of the printhead design can accommodate various structures, sizes, shapes, and number of flow cell channels to meet specific requirements for a broad range of musculoskeletal tissues.

If you are interested in further reading, you may purchase the full research paper here.


  1. David Ede, Nikki Davidoff, Alejandro Blitch, Niloofar Farhang, Robby D. Bowles. Microfluidic Flow Cell Array for Controlled Cell Deposition in Engineered Musculoskeletal TissuesTissue Engineering Part C: Methods, 2018; 24 (9): 546 DOI: 10.1089/ten.TEC.2018.0184

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