Patients who tear, rupture or otherwise damage cartilage or other bodily tissue may one day be able to simply go to the hospital and get a replacement, if new “3D bioprinting” technology being developed by a Vancouver firm reaches its full potential.

    Aspect Biosystems, which was spun off from UBC research efforts in 2013, says the technology can create — or “print out” — human tissue within minutes, and could one day be able to provide “on-demand parts” for ailing patients.

    Tamer Mohamed, Aspect’s CEO, said tissue creation for medical use will need to go through a long process of regulatory testing and certification before seeing the light of day, which he expects will take years. But he added that, if all goes well, patients could see the technology in certain clinical environments “in less than 10 years”.

    He noted that Aspect’s recent announcement of a research deal with pharmaceutical giant Johnson & Johnson to create 3D-printed meniscus tissue as an example of how the technology could one day be used.

    “The meniscus plays a very important role in absorbing shock and transmitting load, but the unfortunate part of the story is that it is also one of the most common knee injuries, like the meniscus tear,” Mohamed said. “Right now, treatment options mostly involve going in and removing all or part of the meniscus — and it can relieve acute pain — but people can then develop arthritis in the knees. We are trying to create meniscus tissue that can replace that.”

    Companies like Aspect will take centre stage during the #BCTECH Summit at the Vancouver Convention Centre on March 14-15. The event is aimed at gathering the province’s sizeable tech sector and showcasing firms to global players. According to the B.C. Tech Association, the sector currently features 9,000 companies, 90,000 employees and $25 billion in revenue.

    For Mohamed, the 2017 edition of the summit will be his second, and he said showcase events like this are crucial for a sector still finding its legs on the global stage.

    “British Columbia, while we are lucky to have an abundance of natural resources, is more than just trees, fish and water,” he said. “We just need that extra drive and belief that we can indeed make a global impact and bring cutting-edge technology from right here in our backyard to others.”

    As for the next step for Aspect, Mohamed said while creating tissues for direct medical use is the ultimate goal, a less ambitious application is much closer to fruition: The company has created tissues that react similarly to drugs as tissues found in the human respiratory system, meaning that 3D-printed tissue can be used to safely test new medicines and therapies with greater accuracy.

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