Oct 24, 2016 | By Alec

The 3D bioprinting of organ and human tissue implants is fantastic, but it’s just one part of the larger field of tissue regeneration – the most widely anticipated medical breakthrough field, which could enable damaged tissues, organs and bones to simply grow back again. You’d almost never need a kidney donor ever again. A lot of 3D bioprinting and material studies can be seen as part of that field, and a Dutch research team affiliated with the Universities of Maastricht and Delft have realized a very important breakthrough on the road towards bone regeneration. They have successfully 3D printed smart implants with self-folding properties that can facilitate bone cell regeneration.

This 3D printed smart implant breakthrough has just been revealed in the journal Materials Horizons, in a cover story entitled ‘Programming the shape-shifting of flat soft matter: from self-rolling/self-twisting materials to self-folding origami’, by S. Janbaz, R. Hedayati, and A. A. Zadpoor. And as they reveal, this bone breakthrough could be applied to all kinds of medical implants used today.

As Dr. Amir Zadpoor explained, complete regeneration of functional tissue is the Holy Grail of tissue engineering, and could revolutionize the treatment of many diseases doctors currently struggle with. But effective regeneration methods require multifunctional biomaterials that facilitate cell growth, and that is exactly what this joint Maastrict and Delft project is focusing on. “Ideally, biomaterials should be optimized not only in terms of their 3D structure but also in terms of their surface nano-patterns,” he explains.

Remarkably, however, 3D printing is not a prime candidate for ushering in the next generation of tools due to surface limitations. “3D printing enables us to create very complex 3D structures, but the access to the surface is very limited during the 3D printing process. Nanolithography techniques enable generation of very complex surface nano-patterns but generally only on flat surfaces,” Zadpoor says. “There was no way of combining arbitrarily complex 3D structures with arbitrarily complex surface nano-patterns.”

To facilitate their smart implant breakthrough, the Dutch team therefore looked to an unlikely source of inspiration: the age-old origami paper folding techniques. As completely flat surfaces can be perfectly 3D printed, Zadpoor programmed these 3D printed biomaterials to start folding in certain patterns when exposed to certain temperature conditions.

This is enabled by covering the flat 3D printed surfaces with complex nano-patterns, that begin to fold the 2D surface into predetermined 3D structures when exposed to the high temperatures of the human body, for instance. “Nature uses various activation mechanisms to program complex transformations in the shape and functionality of living organisms. Inspired by such natural events, our team, including researchers S. Janbaz and R. Hedayati, developed initially flat (two-dimensional) programmable materials that, when triggered by a stimulus such as temperature, could self-transform their shape into a complex three-dimensional geometry,” Zadpoor explains.

Specifically, these shape-shifting objects were 3D printed using bi- and multi-layers of a shape memory polymers and hyperelastic polymers. Capable of four different transformational modes (self-rolling, self-twisting, combined self-rolling and self-wrinkling), they can adjust themselves to any position in the human body and support the development of cellular materials. Some of these modes were subsequently integrated into 2D constructs, and were activated to obtain self-twisting DNA-like structures, self-organizing fibers, and more.

While not quite ready for testing on patients, this is a very important step on the road towards 3D printed bioimplants that facilitate cell regeneration – reducing the strain on the patients and reducing the need for follow-up surgeries. “This work is just one little step towards better medical implants,” Zadpoor said. “but we are definitely making exciting progress.” Zadpoor’s research team also frequently collaborates with specialists from other Dutch university hospitals, including the LUMC in Leiden, the UMC in Utrecht and the AMC in Amsterdam.

 

 

Posted in 3D Printing Application

 

 

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