Michael Hausmann uses nanocellulose as the basis for novel implants.
Michael Hausmann uses nanocellulose as the basis for novel implants.
Source: Empa

Ears from the 3D-printer

Researchers use the biodegradable material cellulose to produce implants for cartilage diseases using 3D printing.

It all starts with an ear. Empa researcher Michael Hausmann removes the object shaped like a human ear from the 3D printer and explains: “In viscous state cellulose nanocrystals can easily be shaped together with nother biopolymers into complex 3-dimensional structures using a 3D printer, such as the Bioplotter.” Once cross-linked, the structures remain stable despite their soft mechanical properties. Hausmann is currently investigating the characteristics of the nanocellulose composite hydrogels in order to further optimize their stability as well as the printing process. The researcher already used X-ray analysis to determine how cellulose is distributed and organized within the printed structures.

At this point in time the printed ear is entirely and solely made of cellulose nanocrystals and a biopolymer. However, the objective is to incorporate both human cells and therapeutics into the base structure in order to produce biomedical implants. A new project is currently underway, looking into how chondrocytes (cartilage cells) can be integrated into the scaffold to yield artificial cartilage tissue. As soon as the colonization of the hydrogel with cells is established, nanocellulose based composites in the shape of an ear could serve as an implant for children with an inherited auricular malformation as for instance, in microtia, where the external ears are only incompletely developed. A reconstruction of the auricle can esthetically and medically correct the malformation; otherwise the hearing ability can be severely impaired. In the further course of the project, cellulose nanocrystals containing hydrogels will also be used for the replacement of articular cartilage (e.g. knee) in cases of joint wear due to, for example, chronic arthritis.


Using the bioplotter, the viscous nanocellulose hydrogel can be printed into...
Using the bioplotter, the viscous nanocellulose hydrogel can be printed into complex shapes.
Source: Empa

Once the artificial tissue has been implanted in the body, the biodegradable polymer material is expected to degrade over time. The cellulose itself is not degradable in the body, but biocompatible. However, it is not only its biocompatibility that makes nanocellulose the perfect material for implant scaffolds. “It is also the mechanical performance of cellulose nanocrystals that make them such promising candidates because the tiny but highly stable fibers can extremely well reinforce the produced implant,” said Hausmann.

Moreover, nanocellulose allows the incorporation of various functions by chemical modifications into the viscous hydrogel. Thus, the structure, the mechanical properties and the interactions of the nanocellulose with its environment can be specifically tailored to the desired end product. “For instance, we can incorporate active substances that promote the growth of chondrocytes or that sooth joint inflammation into the hydrogel,” says the Empa researcher.

And last but not least, as raw material cellulose is the most abundant natural polymer on earth. Therefore, the use of cellulose nanocrystals not only benefits from the mere elegance of the novel process but also from the availability of the raw material.

The white nanocellulose ear lies glossy on the glass carrier. Just out of the Bioplotter, it is already robust and dimensionally stable. Hausmann can give the go-ahead for the next steps.

Subscribe to our newsletter

Related articles

Rapid 3D printing moves toward bioprinted organs

Rapid 3D printing moves toward bioprinted organs

Researchers are using a 3D printing method called stereolithography and jelly-like materials known as hydrogels to speed up and improve 3D printing.

Silk improves bioink for artificial organs

Silk improves bioink for artificial organs

Researchers mechanically reprocess silk into a biologically compatible component of bioinks that improves the structural fidelity of 3D-printed hydrogels containing cells for use in drug development and regrowing lost or damaged body

The heat is on for building 3D artificial organ tissues

The heat is on for building 3D artificial organ tissues

Radiator-like fluid systems adjust the genetic wiring inside human liver cells in preliminary work toward artificial organ-tissue engineering.

Bioprinting tiny, functional organs

Bioprinting tiny, functional organs

Researchers have developed an approach to print tiny tissues that look and function almost like their full-sized counterpart.

Organ bioprinting gets a breath of fresh air

Organ bioprinting gets a breath of fresh air

Bioengineers have cleared a major hurdle on the path to 3D printing replacement organs with a breakthrough technique for bioprinting tissues.

3D printing of biological tissue

3D printing of biological tissue

Scientists hope we will soon be using 3D-printed biologically functional tissue to replace irreparably damaged tissue in the body.

A 'FRESH' way to bioprint tissues and organs

A 'FRESH' way to bioprint tissues and organs

A bioprinting method enables advanced tissue fabrication by using a yield-stress support bath that holds bioinks in place until they are cured and works with a wide array of bioinks.

3D printing strong and tough hydrogels

3D printing strong and tough hydrogels

Skin and cartilage are both strong and flexible – properties that are hard to replicate in artificial materials. But a new fabrication process brings lifelike synthetic polymers a step closer.

Bioprinted heart provides new tool for surgeons

Bioprinted heart provides new tool for surgeons

Surgeons will soon have a powerful new tool for planning and practice with the creation of the first full-sized 3D bioprinted model of the human heart.

Popular articles

Subscribe to Newsletter