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Print-on-demand body implants

Aarhus University has established a new 3D print laboratory where researchers carry out experimental design of implants for the body.

Researchers are giving birth to a new method for the manufacture of bones, cartilage and joints to cure or ease tissue injuries. The method involves the printing of 3D implants for the human body to stimulate the growth of different cell types.

Musculoskeletal diseases affect an increasing part of the population, and they cause pain, functional loss, sick leave or, in the worst cases, the disability of approximately 120 million people in the European Union alone.

This is a trend that is expected to continue concurrently with the demographic development of numbers of older people and fewer young people in the Western countries.

“From a social point of view, we are extremely challenged by a growing population of old people. With age, our physical abilities are weakened as a result of the biological changes in our bodies and external influences through our lifestyle. Our locomotor function is reduced, and our capacity to withstand loads on muscles, tendons and joints also becomes lower. For the individual person, this often causes fewer years in good health and loss of life quality. For society, it results in many costly operations and loss of work power,” says Associate Professor Jens Vinge Nygaard.

Nanostructure determines type of stem cell
Associate Professor Nygaard works with the development of new types of surgical implants for worn or damaged body parts. In the print lab at Aarhus University, he and his research team have created some of the most significant results within the field of tissue engineering, and this indicates that you may have to look in the direction of nanotechnology and materials technology to find new solutions to the increasing number of cases of osteoarthritis, rheumatoid arthritis and osteoporosis.

The special feature of using the printing technique in tissue engineering is that the mechanical properties of the implant material, defined by the specific nanostructure of small holes, determine the type of stem cell to grow on the implant.

Within a period of a few years, the researchers hope to be ready with a new method for the treatment of tissue damages based on a combination of nanotechnology and modern 3D printing technology.

So far, it works as expected in experiments with rabbits and pigs, and with a new six-digit grant from the Danish National Advanced Technology Foundation, the researchers will adapt the method for surgical treatment of humans in the coming three years.

New method for tissue engineering

Researchers print an implant in 3D, which in size and shape corresponds to the damaged tissue of a patient. This could for example be a piece of cartilage for the knee.

They perforate the bone marrow in the body near the implant to ensure full access to stem cells.

The specific nanostructure of the implant is designed to attract the patient’s own stem cells and activate them to create new tissue such as cartilage, bone, skin or fat.

The implant then disintegrates as the new, healthy tissue is formed.

The principle of using the mechanical properties of the implant instead of chemicals to stimulate the growth of cells is a breakthrough in tissue technology.