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Lab-Grown Ligaments That Restore Normal Human Biomechanics

Lab Grown Ligaments

A torn or damaged anterior cruciate ligament (ACL) in the knee is a serious injury suffered across many sports and physical activities. Many surgical repairs for tears of the ACL use a tendon — most commonly the patellar tendon — in place of the ACL (a ligament). This mismatch in tissue types creates a system that is not designed to perform in the way the body expects, resulting in strain and increased risk of re-injury.

Enter lab-grown ligaments. BioFabUSA, the DoD-sponsored manufacturing innovation institute and member of the Manufacturing USA network, is using its state-of-the-art Tissue Foundry in work with biotech company STEL (Skeletal Tissue Engineering Laboratory) to develop and commercialize solutions for soft tissue repair. One priority is to automate the process for manufacturing a tissue product for knee injuries.

Working at the Tissue Foundry, STEL has developed a fully-closed, proprietary tissue bioreactor that allows for safe, scalable development of cell-derived therapies. Cell-generated tissue grafts for ACL and rotator cuff shoulder injuries aim to encourage the body’s own biological healing process and restore normal biomechanics.

The tissue foundry is the first demonstration of scalable, modular, automated and closed manufacturing for a tissue engineered product. It is composed of a series of manufacturing modules, or subsystems, that begin with the culture of cells and extend to the packaging of a final product. The facility integrates innovative cell and tissue cultures with advances in biofabrication, automation, robotics, and analytical technologies to create disruptive research and development tools and FDA-compliant volume manufacturing processes.

These developments have long-term implications for the future of biofabrication and the goal of manufacturing replacement human organs​. They are examples of how advanced manufacturing increasingly plays a critical role in the U.S. innovation ecosystem, supporting U.S. technological competitiveness and driving product and process improvements that strengthen the U.S. economy.