3D printing is indeed a miracle of modern science. The problem of bone healing is being applied this flexible technology by materials science engineers with ‘hyperelastic bone’.
It is a long and painful process to heal the human bones. The implantation of bone from one region in the patient’s body to another is viewed by this method. Although the technique needs additional surgery with all of the accompanying pain, recovery time, and potential complications, there is also one advantage of this approach, that is, the use of the patient’s own bone including stem cells to facilitate growth.
Scaffold is another method to replace lost bone. A frame is offered by scaffolds, containing natural and synthetic materials, upon which stem cells may grow into bone and cartilage. The designated scaffolding material must be hospitable to stem cells and not provoke an immune response for this procedure to work efficiently. Calcium phosphate is a commonly used material that has depicted success regarding the growth of stem cells, however, it is targeted by the immune system every so often, thereby resulting in zero bone growth. Implantation can turn out to be tricky due to the brittle nature of this material. Additionally, its cost and time to manufacture can also be a factor.
Enter 3D printer ‘hyperelastic bone’. This scaffolding material that has been created by researchers at Northwestern University, Illinois combines hydroxyapatite, a mineral found in bone, with polycaprolactone, a biocompatible polymer. In addition to chemical cues to stem cells to create bone, the hydroxyapatite also provide the strength to the material. Allowing for ease of implantation, polycaprolactone provides the flexibility.
Jos Malda, Biomaterials engineer from Utrecht University, the Netherlands, stated:
“This is a neat way to overcome the challenges we face in generating bone replacements. The scaffold is simpler to make than others and it offers more benefits.”
The waiting times are significantly reduced by the new material. A scaffold made of hyperelastic bone, designed on the patient’s x-rays, could be 3D printed and ready to be implanted within the day.
Ramille Shah, the study co-author, told:
“We’re printing flexible scaffolds that will encourage bone to grow through and around them.”
No inflammation or infection was exhibited, with more efficient blood vessel infiltration and bone calcification than in controls, via the testing of the material in mammals.
It has been reported by Malda that hyperelastic bone would be a cost effective solution for bone replacement as the constituent materials are already in common use in biomedical engineering. A wide range of possibilities are unfolded for the technology by the speed of manufacture and adherence to precise specifications. Shah also said, “The sky’s the limit for this material’s applications.”
You can read the researchers’ findings in their newly published “Science Translational Medicine paper” at stm.sciencemag.org.