Engineers at Northwestern University developed a 3D-printable ink to produce synthetic bone implants that can induce bone regeneration, according to a study published yesterday in Science Translational Medicine.
Ramille Shah, the lead researcher, said that their goal was to create a patient-specific, biodegradable implant for pediatric patients, who often have limited options.
“Adults have more options when it comes to implants,” Shah said, according to Northwestern. “Pediatric patients do not. If you give them a permanent implant, you have to do more surgeries in the future as they grow. They might face years of difficulty.”
The biomaterial is made of mostly hydroxyapatite – a naturally occurring mineral found in bones and teeth. The study reported that the material is 90% by weight hydroxyapatite and 10% by weight biocompatible polymer, which is often used in sutures.
“Cells can sense the hydroxyapatite and respond to its bioactivity,” Shah explained. “When you put stem cells on our scaffolds, they turn into bone cells and start to up-regulate their expression of bone specific genes. This is in the absence of any other osteo-inducing substances. It’s just the interaction between the cells and the material itself.”
The team touted the materials porosity and robust hyperelasticity, characteristics that encourage regeneration by allowing blood vessels and cells to circulate through the structure. They also point out that researchers could use the material for other purposes besides bone regeneration.
“We can incorporate antibiotics to reduce the possibility of infection after surgery,” Shah said. “We also can combine the ink with different types of growth factors, if needed, to further enhance regeneration. It’s really a multi-functional material.”
“The turnaround time for an implant that’s specialized for a customer could be within 24 hours,” she added. “That could change the world of craniofacial and orthopaedic surgery, and, I hope, will improve patient outcomes.”