Jun 26, 2017 | By Benedict

Experts at Scotland’s University of Glasgow have used a naturally occurring protein called BMP-2 to save the leg of a dog. The procedure, funded by Sir Bobby Charlton’s landmine charity Find A Better Way, could be replicated on humans with the help of biodegradable 3D printed scaffolds.

Two-year-old Eva the dog (center) with owner Fiona Kirkland (left) and surgeon William Marshall (right)

Sir Bobby Charlton, one of England and Manchester United’s greatest ever soccer players, can be proud of some amazing career achievements. Winning the World Cup with England in 1966, for example, or picking up the Ballon d’Or—an individual award given to the world’s best player—in the same year.

But despite his talents, the sporting legend probably never expected his humanitarian work to result in this most unusual of achievements: saving broken limbs using 3D printing and biology.

In 2011, Charlton founded Find A Better Way, a charity that provides relief for landmine victims and seeks to minimize future landmine injuries in places that have experienced war. Understandably, a big part of the charity’s work involves funding and developing new technologies that can improve (or even prevent) amputations, which are often necessary for landmine victims. But as the charity recently realized, its work on amputations can be applied to animals too.

With the help of Find A Better Way, scientists and veterinarians from the University of Glasgow recently saved the leg of a two-year-old Munsterlander dog named Eva. The experts used a naturally occurring protein called BMP-2 to regenerate bone in the injured dog—a technique that could now be replicated, with the addition of 3D printed bone scaffolds, to treat human landmine victims.

Amazingly, Eva’s experimental treatment was successful, meaning the dog no longer needs an amputation.

“This is an exciting development,” commented Professor Manuel Salmeron-Sanchez, Chair of Biomedical Engineering at Glasgow University. “During research and development, the use of PEA and BMP-2 to grow new bone tissue has looked very promising, but I was not expecting the treatment to be used to help a patient for several more years.”

Diagram of the first-of-its-kind bone procedure

Eva’s broken front leg was not caused by a landmine, but by a much more common threat to dogs and other pets: a moving car. Despite receiving state-of-the-art care from the University of Glasgow’s Small Animal Hospital following the accident, Eva’s leg refused to heal, leading vets to believe that amputation would be necessary.

But Eva’s vet, William Marshall, found out by chance about synthetic bone research being carried out at the university—research that was being funded by Charlton’s Find A Better Way charity.

In January, Salmeron-Sanchez and fellow Professor Matt Dalby had started work to develop synthetically grown bone tissue for use by trauma surgeons when treating landmine blast survivors.

One of the approaches being explored by Salmeron-Sanchez and Dalby involved the use of a naturally occurring protein called BMP-2, a substance that causes bones to grow. Historically, however, scientists have had trouble controlling BMP-2-induced bone growth, with the substance often resulting in unwanted bone growth around the body.

Excitingly, the the Glasgow University experts discovered that poly(ethyl acrylate) (PEA) could be used to control the placement and dosage of BMP-2. Marshall witnessed this research taking place and thought: that could help Eva!

The researchers agreed to help Marshall, who eventually took a mixture of “bone chips,” coated them with PEA and BMP-2, and placed the mixture in the 2 cm gap in Eva’s front leg.

This was the first ever use of PEA and BMP-2 for the medical treatment of man or animal, so everyone involved was aware that things could go badly. Fortunately, just the opposite happened: bone regrew fully, and Eva is now on the way to a full recovery.

Sir Bobby Charlton playing for Manchester United in his heyday

(Image: Manchester Evening News)

Of course, this is great news for Eva, but it could be even better news for humans—landmine survivors in particular. That’s because Salmeron-Sanchez and Dalby can now refine their research for the treatment of humans, eventually using a similar process to heal the broken bones of landmine victims and other patients.

Eventually, the researchers will use a 3D printed medical-grade plastic bone scaffold covered with BMP-2 and stem cells. This 3D printed scaffold will encourage the growth of bone tissue, before eventually biodegrading in the body.

Sir Bobby Charlton was kept abreast of all these developments, and was delighted with the success of the operation (and its potential knock-on effects). "When I signed the funding agreement for this project just six months ago I was not expecting there to be any results from this technology for years,” the former soccer ace said.

Charlton added: “Eva is a beautiful dog and I’m delighted she will now have a normal life thanks to the work Find A Better Way has funded at the University of Glasgow. I’m even more thrilled to think about what promise this technique holds for landmine blast survivors, and the rest of humanity, in the future.”



Posted in 3D Printing Application



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