Bone replacements for people that need them may soon become safer and more effective thanks to stronger artificial bones that can be fabricated using a new 3D-printing design.
Hossein Montazerian, a research assistant in the University of British Columbia Okanagan's School of Engineering, has discovered a way to model and create artificial bone grafts that can be custom printed. His design allows for the creation of artificial bones that are tailor-made for patients, reducing the need for painful surgeries and bone grafting, which are typically used today in these types of procedures, he told Design News.
“We have shown how porous bone replacements can be designed with the nature-inspired geometries and structures so that we provide cells strong, spacious and safe enough support to let them grow efficiently,” Montazerian said. “This technology allows the doctors and surgeons to design the patient-specific replacements so that they fit very well into the damaged bone area, instead of doing a secondary surgery and harvesting bone from other sites of the body for taking that replacement.”
Indeed, bone grafting traditionally has been used in medicine to treat ailments such as bone fractures or defects. But this requires moving bone from one part of a person’s body to another, he said. By 3D printing artificial bone grafts instead, painful surgeries can be avoided, Montazerian said.
Hossein Montazerian, research assistant with UBC Okanagan's School of Engineering, demonstrates the artificial bone design that can be made with a 3D printer. He a team there identified the design, which can be used to replace bone-grafting methods and multiple surgeries that people who need bone transplants require today. (Source: UBC Okanagan)
In his research, Montazerian didn’t just apply his 3D-printing design generically. He analyzed 240 different bone-graft designs, focusing only on the ones that were both porous and strong, and fabricating the ones that performed the best in the 3D-printing process.
"When designing artificial bone scaffolds it's a fine balance between something that is porous enough to mix with natural bone and connective tissue, but at the same time strong enough for patients to lead a normal life," he said. "We've identified a design that strikes that balance and can be custom built using a 3D printer."
Of those he printed, Montazerian tested them to determine how they would perform physically under real-world tension and weight loads.
"A few of the structures really stood out," he said. "The best designs were up to 10 times stronger than the others and since they have properties that are much more similar to natural bone, they're less likely to cause problems over the long term."
Montazerian and his team published a paper about their work in the journal Materials & Design.
Artificial bones aren’t the only way the porous-material designs Montazerian created can be used, he said. “Many industries such as automotive and aerospace industries--and also many goods such as helmets, shoes, and so on--are taking advantage of porous materials [and] porous structures to better absorb the impact or energy--or even take electricity out of them,” Montazerian said.
The team plans to continue its research by showing how more complex porous geometries can give us an even better biological response, Montazerian added. “We want to smoothly change the pore geometry over the bone replacement in order to intentionally guide the tissue ingrowth, thereby better mimicking the natural bone's behavior,” he said.
Elizabeth Montalbano is a freelance writer who has written about technology and culture for more than 15 years.