A researcher has pioneered a new way of 3D printing to help human bone tissue regenerate following major damage.
Manolis Papastavrou, of Nottingham Trent University’s Design for Health and Wellbeing Research Group, is controlling the micro-structure of a bone scaffold.
The research aims to improve the toughness of synthetic bone substitutes. This is one of the main requirements for patients who have lost a large volume of bone tissue, following, for instance, treatment for cancer or a catastrophic fracture.
The bone scaffold – a 3D lattice – acts as a temporary bridge to allow the regeneration of natural tissue. It can be printed to the exact size and shape of an individual’s requirements based on medical imaging data and can be porous to allow for blood flow and cell growth.
The scaffold – which is made from the same minerals found in natural bone – is designed to be dissolved and replaced by new tissue as the patient recovers.
The research examined how the growth of crystals at sub-zero temperatures can be used in conjunction with a 3D printing process to structure a material at different orders of magnitude – in an effort to mimic structures that can be observed in biological materials.
“This research demonstrates how 3D printing in combination with freezing can reduce significantly the fabrication time and cost of such medical devices,” said Mr Papastavrou, a PhD candidate.
“The secret behind the toughness of many biological materials is the way their components are arranged from the molecular all the way up to a macro level. Using this design strategy could help engineer bone scaffolds, whose porosity does not compromise their strength.
“In the long term, this research could contribute in replacing the use of metal in orthopaedic implants with materials that can be broken down by the body.”
The research has been overseen by Professor Philip Breedon, of the School of Architecture, Design and the Built Environment, and Dr David Fairhurst, of the School of Science and Technology. It was presented recently at a conference titled Printing for the Future, which took place at the Institute of Physics, London.
Professor Breedon said: “This research is a real step forward as it shows how we can use 3D printing to improve biomaterials without the need for achieving high resolution.
“By manipulating the growth of crystals in a 3D printed material, we can improve the microstructures of bone scaffolds to make them stronger and may help people who’ve suffered a major injury or illness make a swifter recovery.”