Feb 8, 2016 | By Alec
Though several regenerative biomedical solutions are already being developed (sometimes with the help of 3D bioprinting), bones continue to pose a challenge due to the exact properties of human bones – it’s not something easily replaced with another material. Ideally, a patient’s stem cells are used to grow new bones, but this takes a very long time and requires a proper biocompatible, custom-fitting scaffold. Fortunately, a new NYC-based startup called EpiBone is working on just that, and have discovered a source available in abundance: animal bone material.
This is a solution that could replace a somewhat medieval practice that is still currently applied in the field of bone restoration – and on a very large scale. After blood, bone is the most widely transplanted tissue in the world, with about a million bone-graft surgeries taking place in the US alone. It’s an industry worth more than $5 billion. While a single broken bone can regenerate, if a bone is shattered or destroyed by cancer, things get difficult. In most cases, surgeons either take a piece of your own bone (from somewhere else in your body) and graft it into a new bone. Cadaver bones are also sometimes used, though they bring a risk of disease and rejection with them. But bone grafts aren’t perfect either – the late US film critic Roger Ebert lost his jawbone to cancer, and had it replaced with hip and shoulder parts, giving him a limp for the rest of his life.
So what can you do? EpiBone instead creates an environment in which a body’s own fat tissue stem cells can grow a new bone. In a nutshell, they are building a 3D printed scaffold for this delicate process using animal bones that have been stripped of all its cellular material. After a few weeks, the new bone should be ready for use. This startup has been founded back in early 2013 by Nina Tandon, Gordana Vunjak-Novakovic and Sarindr Bhumiratana, with Tandon functioning as CEO. They claim to be the world’s first company to grow living human bones for skeletal reconstruction, though they find themselves in a growing field of regenerative medicine in which bones are high on the agenda. “What we're doing is interesting, because it's where science fiction meets reality,” says Tandon. “We propose a more radical — and dare we say, natural — approach that combines both of the above trends: growing your own bone. Why not use the stem cells that grow bones every day in people's bodies to engineer bones in a lab?”
This is how the process works. EpiBone takes a CT scan to get a precise view of the necessary bone graft. “[Then] we can calculate and fabricate a personalized scaffold in the precise 3D shape of the bone we want to engineer,” Tandon says of their 3D printed bones. They also take fat sample from which they can extract stem cells. The 3D printed scaffold made from animal bone material is filled with stem cells and is then placed in a bioreactor, which simulates the conditions of the human body. “Temperature, humidity, acidity and nutrient composition all need to be just right for the stem cells to transform into bone-growing cells called osteoblasts, colonize the scaffold and remodel it with living tissue,” they explain.
Over the course of three weeks, a new bone – perfectly fitting the patient – is finished. And because the animal bone scaffolding is removed, this implant is completely made of a patient’s own cells and should therefore not be rejected. In theory, at least, this process should work very well. “Bioreactor cultivation of human stem cells in an osteogenic scaffold has been shown to support cell survival, differentiation, maturation and deposition of bone matrix, while restricting the development of unwanted lineages and facilitating a continued remodeling and vascularization following transplantation,” the startup argues. So far, the initial animal tests(mostly on pigs), in which lab-grown implants are inserted into the body, are promising. “But we still need to demonstrate that this method will work for humans,” they say. Tandon hopes to start clinical trials on humans over the next few years, with a market release envisioned within eight years. Initially, it is expected to be used for smaller bones, such as broken cheekbones.
But obviously, a lot of people could benefit from this breakthrough. Patients with congenital facial defects, bone trauma and other complications can be given a chance at a regular life, while oral, maxillofacial and neuro surgeons can all see their jobs become much easier and the likelihood of surgical complications can greatly be reduced. In turn, hospitals and insurance companies (and the patients themselves) will benefit financially. “I get really excited about the idea of congenital defects being a thing of the past ... no kids born with cranial defects anymore,” the CEO tells CNN. “We'd love to see no one ever need revision surgeries after a knee replacement because their implants will last as long as they do.”
Posted in 3D Printing Application
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Nick C wrote at 2/11/2016 12:46:09 AM:
Very cool, but not 3D printed. These are clearly machined from a large block (see video)