By Hamelin de Guettelet, via Wikimedia Commons
Leading US additive manufacturing group America Makes and metal 3D printing technology and material manufacturer ExOne have put their weight behind serious research into using 3D printing in regenerative medicine.
Scientists from the University of Pittsburgh's Swanson School of Engineering and McGowan Institute for Regenerative Medicine (MIRM) have proposed that if additive manufacturing technology can produce bespoke replacement parts or machines, then the same process could be used to make biodegradable tissue repair structures for the human body.
The project entitled Additive Manufacturing of Biomedical Devices from Bioresorbable Metallic Alloys for Medical Applications was one of 15 schemes selected by America Makes, the National Additive Manufacturing Innovation Institute, as part of its second call for additive manufacturing applied research and development projects. ExOne, together with Magnesium Elektron and Hoeganaes are the study's corporate partners.
Principal Investigator in the research project is Prashant Kumta, who is the Swanson School's Edward R Weidlein Chair Professor and Professor of Bioengineering, Chemical and Petroleum Engineering, Mechanical Engineering and Materials Science. Dr Kumta is working alongside co-Principal Investigator Howard Kuhn, Adjunct Professor of Industrial Engineering, while Director of Scientific Collaborations for the University of Pittsburgh Medical Center and Director of the McGowan Institute's Center for Industry Relations Patrick Cantini will be Project Manager.
Dr Kumta said: "Additive manufacturing combines the best of technologies – the ability to construct complex structures via computer imaging utilising a combination of advanced biocompatible and more importantly, biodegradable alloys.
"Thanks to computer-aided tomography, or CAT scans, we can directly image a damaged structure like a bone or trachea and construct a biodegradable iron-manganese based scaffold to promote natural tissue growth during the healing process. This reduces the risk of disease transmission via methods such as bone grafting, and allows for a more precise framework for the body to heal itself by controlling the degradability of the alloy by careful alloy design and engineering."
He continued: "Although we could create a ceramic or plastic part with additive manufacturing, this is not as ideal as an iron-manganese alloy which is stronger, more ductile and degrades over time to be replaced by new bone."
In addition to precisely modelling parts of the body, 3D printing enables the used of biodegradable alloys like iron-manganese, serving as a functional scaffold for inducing cells to grow as well as platforms for delivering biological molecules and antibiotics, as opposed to artificial implants.
The sintering process cures the scaffolds to provide structural integrity to the bonded particles. During this phase of the research, the scaffolds are evaluated for their biocompatibility, bioresorption and mechanical properties. Some of biomedical devices, such as bone fixation screws and plate, as well as tracheal stents, will be produced in preparation for later clinical studies.
Dr Kumta is optimistic about the project, claiming 3D printing technology could provide a new break-through for regenerative medicine.
"Additive manufacturing is a game-changer for biomedical research because it not only provides a framework structure for cells and tissue to grow providing thus a better foundation for the body to repair its own tissues, but also because it can be utilised in remote areas such as army field hospitals, where access to traditional treatments may be limited," he said.
"Rather than implanting an inert screw or plate or joint, we can utilise a degradable metallic alloy which provides the template allowing the body's own regenerative machinery to provide an effective pathway to heal itself."