AMBER researchers pioneer method for making 3D-printed bones

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2 September 2016 | 0

Researchers at AMBER, the Science Foundation Ireland funded materials science centre, hosted in Trinity College Dublin, have created a process to support 3D printing of new bone material. The world-first research, led by Prof Daniel Kelly and published in the journal Advanced Healthcare Materials, could be used to regenerate large defects caused by tumour resections, trauma and infection, as well as inherited bone deformities – effectively ending the need for bone grafts.

Worldwide, 2.2 million procedures a year require a bone graft. There are currently two methods to provide a bone graft. The first is an autograft, where bone is transplanted from one site to another site within the same person. This type of grafting can be quite painful, and issues can arise at the site of extraction, as it heals. The second, an allograft, is where bone is taken from a donor and transplanted but it can be hard to find suitable donors.

AMBER’s 3D printing method could eliminate these difficulties by enabling the printing of larger and more complex shaped implants. The mechanical properties can be tailored for specific applications, which means bone grafts could be used in complex cases such as in the head and jaw.

AMBER researchers’ method consists of using 3D bioprinting technology to fabricate cartilage templates which have been shown to assist the growth of a complete bone organ. The team used 3D bioprinting to deposit different biomaterials and adult stem cells in order to engineer cartilage templates matching the shape of a segment within the spine. The templates were then implanted under the skin, where they matured over time into a fully functional bone organ with its own blood vessels.

“This is new approach to tissue and organ engineering and we’re very excited,” said Prof Kelly. “3D bioprinting is a rapidly expanding area in the fields of tissue engineering and regenerative medicine.

“While the technology has already been used to engineer relatively simple tissues such as skin, blood vessels and cartilage, engineering more complex and vascularised solid organs, such as bone, is well beyond the capabilities of currently available bioprinting technologies. Our research offers real hope in the future for patients with complex bone trauma or large defects following removal of a tumour.

“In addition, this bioprinting approach could also be used in the development of the next generation of biological implants for knee and hip replacements. Our next stage of this process is to aim to treat large bone defects and then integrate the technology into a novel strategy to bioprint new knees.”

Listen to an interview with AMBER director Prof Mick Morris in a recent edition of TechRadio.

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