Funding of 10 million euros from the Werner Siemens Foundation for a new type of tissue replacement. Project of DWI and RWTH Aachen.
Growth and replacement of damaged cartilage tissue using revolutionary 4D printing technology: this is what an interdisciplinary team from the DWI – Leibniz Institute for Interactive Materials and RWTH Aachen is striving to do. He will receive funding of around 10 million euros from the Werner Siemens Foundation for five years to develop a so-called bio ink with special properties as part of the “TriggerINK” project.
The human body is made up of an abundance of differently structured and sometimes very complex tissues. If they are damaged, medicine faces major challenges in restoring their function. Although there are procedures that can repair the cartilage of the knee, for example, such procedures do not lead to long-term healing that restores the damaged tissue and its full functions. As a result, multiple operations are often required, as a single treatment does not lead to stable, healthy and functional cartilage.
Alternative technology for tissue replacement
In the TriggerINK project, the DWI-RWTH team wants to develop an alternative technology for tissue replacement. It is directed by Laura De Laporte, professor of advanced materials and biomedicine. Professors Stefan Hecht (3D printing by light), Andreas Herrmann (release of active substances by ultrasound) and Matthias Wessling (chemical engineering) complete the team. TriggerINK uses the innovative principle of 4D printing, for which a special bio-ink is designed. 4D printing is a further development of 3D printing technology: in conventional 3D printing, a material is applied layer by layer, creating a three-dimensional structure – like a cube. “The additional factor that also gives 4D printing its name is ‘time’: we build special components in the ink that react to external stimuli at very specific times. The printed material – in the example the cubes – can be moved with light or bioactive components can be released with ultrasound if needed,” says De Laporte.
The team now wants to develop a new method to replace damaged body tissue: by printing 4D structures directly into the affected wound. To test the technology, the researchers selected cartilage in the knee joint. “We face a variety of challenges when trying to regrow healthy tissue from damaged sites. For example, the printed material must have a very specific structure that is comparable to its natural counterpart. It therefore contains pores and oriented microstructures that promote the growth of the body’s own cells in the tissue so that it can again perform its original function.In the case of the knee joint, for example, it must resist pressure or friction explains Professor Matthias Wessling.
TriggerINK’s idea includes smooth fusing steps during the printing process. The different properties of the bio-ink are revealed: “The goal is to continuously print the bio-ink into the wound. It contains various ingredients that react, for example, to exposure to light. This creates cross-links during the printing process that form a support structure and pores,” says Hecht, in whose labs these light-sensitive building blocks are developed. “We strive to develop a medical product – this means that the perspective of the clinic user is also essential for us. That is why we are also supported and advised by high-level colleagues from medicine and molecular cell biology,” explains Professor Stefan Hecht.
For the ink, the team will use a technology developed and patented by Laura De Laporte: ANISOGEL for the directed growth of nerve cells. In addition, the organic ink should contain encapsulated growth factors and immunomodulatory active ingredients. “These can be released with the help of ultrasound if necessary and should thus support the healing process,” explains Professor Andreas Herrmann. He specializes in alternative drug delivery systems.