3D Printing Ligaments And Tendons
Most people understand how ligaments and tendons function in the human body. These intertwined pieces of mostly collagen act as connective tissue between bone and bone or bone and muscle. These tissues are considered the limiting factors of strength and particularly speed of movement. This tissue is extremely strong and can absorb a very large amount of force before releasing it back into the rest of the human structure. Think of them as rubber bands that keep the muscles and bones of the body in the right place.
Everybody has sprained an ankle or hyper extended a joint. Each time this happens, the connective tissue is pushed too far or not allowed to release the energy stored during a large exertion. You roll an ankle and your entire body weight collapses on the connective tissue usually causing the tissue to rip slightly or even tear altogether if it’s bad enough. These small tears also allow the injury to occur more and more easily each time.
Basically, ligaments and tendons are some of the tissues that will never heal fully in your body. The tear will be covered up with scar tissue, but new collagen is rarely if not ever added to the injury. Perhaps you know someone who has had to undergo surgery to fix a torn ACL or MCL. This procedure usually takes existing ligaments and grafts it to the injured area from your own body or a donated body. You can imagine the complications this causes in both cases.
3D printing has already proven its value in printing stem cells, although it is still being perfected. Artificial collagen has also already been created. With these technologies already in existence, it is practically inevitable that the 3D printing of cloned ligaments or even artificial ligaments to an existing ligament scaffold (i.e. a weakened but not completely torn ligament) is in the very near future.
Preventative treatments are far more effective than reconstructive treatments. As the old saying “an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of treatment.” The current medical system offers very few options for restoring damaged connective tissue. Surgery is usually only undertaken after a complete tear. 3D printing offers a very viable option for this problem. Now that 3D printing has the necessary precision in combination with new materials technology, the future of preventative treatment is within reach.