Leveraging 3D bioprinting to develop tailored regenerative therapies for knee meniscus tears

Researchers from the IIT-Guwahati in collaboration with the University of Animal and Fishery Sciences, Kolkata have formulated three ingenious treatment solutions for a certain type of knee injury that has historically proven difficult to treat

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New Delhi: Researchers from the Indian Institute of Technology Guwahati in collaboration with the University of Animal and Fishery Sciences, Kolkata have formulated three ingenious treatment solutions for a certain type of knee injury that has historically proven difficult to treat.
By developing these key regenerative therapies, the researchers have provided possible alternative solutions to manage the problem of a knee meniscus tear, an injury to tissue in one’s knee joints.
Trauma to the knee meniscus, a cushioning tissue in the knee joint, is a commonly occurring yet complex problem. It can be caused during day-to-day activities by sudden accidents, mishaps while playing sports, or simply aging. A tear in this crucial tissue can make it difficult for an individual to walk, run or participate in daily activities.
However, these new developments signal a significant advancement in treating knee injuries, providing a solution that is custom-made for each patient and could also potentially prevent future complications such as osteoarthritis. The three different approaches have been published in three manuscripts across two International journals, Applied Materials Today and Advanced Biology, co-authored by Prof. Biman B. Mandal, Department of Biosciences and Bioengineering, along with his research scholars, Mr. Ashutosh Bandyopadhyay, Ms. Baishali Ghibhela, and Ms. Sayanti Shome, from IIT Guwahati, and collaborators Dr. Debajyoti Pal, Dr. Samsamul Hoque and Prof. Samit K. Nandi from the University of Animal and Fishery Sciences, Kolkata.
Speaking about the research, Prof. Biman B. Mandal, Department of Biosciences and Bioengineering, IIT Guwahati, said, “We have developed regenerative treatment approaches that would be tailored for the patient and help in rapid healing meniscus tears or replacing parts of the damaged tissue. Our problem statement also accounts for the shape and size variability of the meniscus in patients of different age groups, and is a source of growth factors for better healing.”
Healing the knee meniscus naturally is a slow and difficult process because of its restricted blood supply. Surgically removing the injured tissue may cause joint discomfort and osteoarthritis in the long run. This causes movement constraints, pain, and livelihood issues for millions in India and across the globe.
The team from IIT Guwahati has created three hydrogel formulations that are blends of silk fibroin and other polymers, which they envision can be used by doctors in clinics, to treat the meniscus injury. These components, especially silk, are well known for their strength, bioactivity and flexibility. They are also cost-effective compared to other materials such as commercially available polyurethane and collagen meniscus implants.
Out of the three, one is an injectable hydrogel, which can be injected in a minimally invasive manner directly into the meniscus site to expedite the healing of smaller injuries. When it comes to treating larger full thickness complex meniscus tissue injuries, the researchers have additionally created two 3D bio-printable inks that can be 3D printed into implants.
In the two bioink formulations, one carries commercially available growth factor loaded microspheres while the second bioink carries patient derived factors which are released in a sustained manner aiding faster meniscus healing. Both formulations can be 3D printed into a partial or full sized meniscus and used for healing large portions of the meniscus.
3D printing, or bioprinting, has recently emerged as a popular futuristic method for tissue engineering. Here, the implant is customized as per the patient’s requirements. Typically, the injured knee of the patient is scanned by the doctor, and the specifications fed to the 3D printer, to create a perfect fit implant using the bioink for the patient to promote rapid recovery.
Explaining the urgency of creating such therapeutic approaches, Prof. Mandal adds, “There is an urgent need for personalized, affordable 3D meniscal implants in the clinical scenario as artificial implants fail to conform to patients alike. There are also significant infection risks from allografts, inconsistent mechanical compliance of the graft being either too brittle or too stiff, as well as the poor biological integration of synthetic implants.”
These three new techniques aim to address those problems. Healing critical meniscus injuries would enable patients to return to their daily lives without concerns of pain, mobility issues, or osteoarthritis. This research aims to provide a more personalized and effective treatment for meniscus injuries, potentially improving the quality of life for millions of people.
Prof. Mandal acknowledges funding support received from SERB and DST to execute the meniscus work.