Publication date: Jun 08, 2019
Credit: North Carolina State University Every year in the United States, hundreds of thousands of people learn that the pain in their knee or shoulder is a soft tissue that needs repair or replacement.
And that’s where an interdisciplinary team of researchers at NC State University and the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill has found a potentially transformative opportunity.
Drawn from biomedical and industrial engineering, textiles and veterinary medicine, the group is exploring how to apply 3-D printing and nonwoven fiber manufacturing to create new tissues that can grow in the human body.
There are three components in tissue engineering, according to the National Institute of Biomedical Imaging and Bioengineering (NIBIB): scaffolds, cells and active molecules that encourage further cell growth.
FIBERS team researchers built an advanced 3-D printer to control the nanoscale characteristics of the materials that form regenerative scaffolding.
Credit: North Carolina State University “In the absence of scaffolds,” said Rohan Shirwaiker, an associate professor of industrial and systems engineering, “we could still get bone cells and grow them on a petri dish.
3-D printing meets nonwoven materials To meet the challenge facing tissue engineering, the FIBER team is using two technologies where NC State has particular strength: 3-D printing and nonwoven textiles.
Credit: North Carolina State University With a 3-D printer, a researcher can precisely reproduce the shapes and structures in an MRI image or a CT scan.
That control is essential, Shirwaiker said, but traditional 3-D printers may not appropriately capture features at the tiny scale that tissue engineering demands.
Shirwaiker and Matt Fisher, an assistant professor of biomedical engineering, have been exploring different 3-D printing strategies to make tissues such as the meniscus and tendons.
Matt Fisher, Stephanie Cone and Danielle Howe test synthetic soft tissues in Fisher’s robotics lab at NC State.
Credit: North Carolina State University The FIBERS team designed its machine to offer more variety in the size, shape, and orientation of the layers of fibers that ultimately form an object.
Credit: North Carolina State University An interdisciplinary approach Tissue engineering itself sits at the intersection of several disciplines: biology, textiles, and medicine, to name three.
Fisher is part of the faculty cluster in translational regenerative medicine, and his work with Shirwaiker on 3-D printing tissues predates the FIBER initiative.
Credit: North Carolina State University The team, which also includes faculty from the College of Veterinary Medicine at NC State and the School of Pharmacy, the UNC Burn Center, and orthopaedics department at UNC, meets weekly.
The future of fibers To this point, the research team’s work has focused on innovations that would improve quality of life for the hundreds of thousands of people who get replacement soft tissues each year.
VIDEO Credit: North Carolina State University The FIBERS investigators have requested funding from the National Science Foundation to establish a national hub for regenerative tissue engineering at