Platelet-rich-plasma therapy is proving useful in injection form for painful joint conditions and chronic soft tissue injuries. And because it is a natural, safe and effective way to treat conditions we previously treated with surgery and opioid regiments, research and development is always underway. The newest in PRP treatments are 3D-printed implants. 3D-printed blood? Yeah, kind of.
These PRP treatments are created by taking blood from the patient, which is then placed in a centrifuge to extract the platelet-rich-plasma. This material is then manipulated with a hydrogel to 3D print what is essentially a blood plasma scaffold. It is then installed at the site of the injury, the idea being this living scaffold packed with growth and healing abilities acts as support for the body to bring new nutrients and cells to the site, regenerating damaged tissue.
The Potential of 3D-Printed Platelet-Rich-Plasma for Injury
The research on PRP implants is very new, the most notable pilot study in humans was published in 2021, with another important study conducted on rabbits published in the same year. Findings from this novel body of research found:
- 3D printed PRP implants for complex skin wounds demonstrated an ability to revascularize tissue (form new blood vessels) while also inhibiting tissue fibrosis (stiffening of skin and scar tissue formation). Current skin tissue scaffolds lack the ability to increase vascularization without also increasing fibrosis.
- Hydrogel PRP implants in rabbits with osteochondral damage showed a 12-week ability to affect the body’s immune response and promote osteochondral generation. This generation was multifaceted, including cartilage and bone repair, as well as cell differentiation.
You can imagine what kinds of implications preliminary findings like these have for the future of tissue engineering. Pretty cool, right?
How is a PRP Implant Different than PRP Injection Therapy?
The immediately obvious difference between potential PRP implant applications vs the use of PRP injections is invasiveness. Injection treatments with platelet-rich-plasma merely require a needle and syringe. However, 3D-printed PRP implants may require a surgical procedure to install, depending on the injury.
Another difference is in targeting the platelet-rich-plasma’s effort; direct application of an implant ensures the PRP is directed to the site. With injections, the question of how effectively the injury is targeted by the treatment is varied and unpredictable. With all of it, though, it’s way too early to tell. In the meantime, PRP injections can do wonders for difficult-to-heal injuries and chronic myofascial pain.