Bone implants and grafts – they’ve been around for years, but are still a very problematic issue. For an implant has to accepted by the body (and not result in an inflammatory response), widely available and easy to use in a surgical environmen, and they need to be cost-effective. Nowadays putty-type fillers, custom scaffolding and even salvaged cadaver bones are regularly used, but they can still cause inflammatory reactions and are particularly unsuited for underage patients – who can expect multiple surgeries over the years as they mature. Even then, these options are usually more brittle than the real thing.
Fortunately, 3D bioprinting could offer a solution by building environments in which bone cells can be encouraged to form completely new structures. The big challenge right there is finding the materials that can be 3D printed into scaffolding, in which stem cells can grow and stay alive long enough to be implanted. Several research team from all around the world are working on this material challenge, and just a few months ago a team from the University of Bristol announced their successes with a 3D printable seaweed-based material that is particularly suited for cartilage growth.
But an even more widely applicable solution has just appeared out of the labs at Northwestern University. Called hyperelastic bone (or HB), it could be the breakthrough the world has been waiting for. This 3D printable hyperelastic bone bioink can be turned into bone implants of any size, shape and form (even entire skulls are possible), and can be implanted into the body. Most importantly, the material is ultra-elastic and robust, allowing the doctors to manipulate it in any surgical setting and ensure that implants have the exact shape necessary. Once inside, blood vessels and cellular structures quickly fill up the scaffold and enable bone regeneration.
This huge breakthrough has been developed by a team led by Ramille Shah, assistant professor of materials science at Northwestern University. It has just been published in the journal Science Translational Medicine, under the title Hyperelastic “bone”: A highly versatile, growth factor-free, osteoregenerative, scalable, and surgically friendly biomaterial. Shah’s postdoc research Adam Jakus is the first author.
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