Irish scientists develop amazing new way to 3D print bone

2 Sep 2016

3D bioprinting is at the absolute forefront of medical advances, with this nascent industry posing immense potential. One such example was recently detailed by Irish researchers at AMBER.

The Trinity-hosted facility AMBER (Advanced Materials and BioEngineering Research) has produced some really cool stuff in the past.

It is the epicentre of nanowire improvements, internet of things projects and the battery of the future, but work on 3D bioprinting is AMBER’s latest trick.

AMBER bone graft 3D bioprinting

Its researchers have created a process to support 3D bioprinting of new bone material, enabling larger and more complex implant shapes, paving the way for grafts around the head.

The new process uses 3D bioprinting technology to fabricate cartilage templates, which have been shown to assist the growth of a complete bone organ.

The process deposits different biomaterials and adult stem cells in order to engineer cartilage templates, matching the shape of a segment within the build.

To test it out, the team, led by Prof Daniel Kelly, implanted the structures under the skin, and they developed into a “fully functional bone organ with its own blood vessels”.

“This is a new approach to tissue and organ engineering and we’re very excited,” said Kelly, following the publication of his paper in Advanced Healthcare Materials.

‘The next stage is to treat large bone defects and then bioprint new knees’
Prof Daniel Kelly, AMBER

Noting the “rapidly expanding” area of 3D bioprinting, Kelly said bone developments have lagged behind those of simple tissues, such as skin, blood vessels and cartilage.

“Our research offers real hope in the future for patients with complex bone trauma or large defects following removal of a tumour.”

Over 2m bone grafts are attempted each year, with just two ways to do them. Pain and availability of donors, respectively, are the two major problems with each of these processes.

Autograft sees bone transplanted from one site to another site within the same person. Allograft is where bone is taken from a donor and transplanted.

“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,” said Kelly.

Last month, it emerged that the construction of nanowires could prove remarkably different in future, after AMBER researchers found a simpler process to produce germanium-tin variants, with smartphone manufacturing one area that may benefit from the discovery.

Earlier this year Prof Valeria Nicolosi, a researcher at the facility, was awarded a €2.5m ERC Consolidator Grant to create an innovative new type of energy storage device that can charge in just a few minutes, last longer than today’s batteries and be hidden within any kind of material, even the human body.

Main X-ray image via Shutterstock

Gordon Hunt was a journalist with Silicon Republic