A scientist from the University of Arizona has received a $2 million grant from the U.S. Department of Defense to pursue a five-year project for developing a 3D bioprinting process for healing bone fractures. The research, which will utilize adult stem cells and bioprinting tech, could ultimately be used by the military to treat bone injuries.
The scientist in question is Dr. John A. Szivek, PhD, a scientist at the UA College of Medicine in Tucson, Arizona. Throughout the course of the project, Dr. Szivek will work with clinical partners at the UA Department of Orthopaedic Surgery to 3D print bone-shaped scaffolds which will then be embedded with calcium particles and adult stem cells. The goal with the project is to develop implantable scaffolds that encourage faster bone growth and healing.
“Imagine an impact that causes half of a long bone to shatter so that it can’t be put back together—no current surgical treatment can ensure that kind of injury will heal,” said Dr. Szivek. “This is a really big problem for the military, where explosions or combat injuries can cause big bone defects.”
Dr. Szivek has already conducted pilot studies for the 3D printed bone project which have shown promising results. He explains: “We achieved complete bone formation, covering a large bone defect in about three months. Now we want to make that healing process even faster.”
This phase of the research will explore whether exercise early in the healing process will help to speed up the recovery once the 3D printed bone scaffold has been implanted. According to other existing studies, exercise can help bone growth.
In practice, this theory will be tested by embedding tiny, wireless sensors into the 3D printed implants which will transmit exercise activity to the researchers. The sensors will also analyze the load (or weight) being put on the scaffold and for what length of time. With the information gathered from the study, Dr. Szivek hopes to put together guidelines for post-surgical physical therapy for improved bone regeneration.
If this study proves successful, the next stage will be to conduct clinical trials, likely in cooperation with the U.S. military. Notably, the method could be helpful in reducing the amount of surgeries needed to treat bone injuries. “Patients often re-break the damaged bone area after surgeons try to repair it and the limb will eventually be amputated,” Dr. Szivek added. “There’s just no good way of regenerating or re-growing long bone segments right now.”
In addition to treating military injuries, the bioprinting research could one day be used to treat bone cancer patients.
“The work that Dr. Szivek and his team are doing to help these individuals is a great example of using new technology to significantly improve quality of life for patients,” said University of Arizona President Robert C. Robbins, M.D. “I am confident their unique research will lead to the development of more effective treatments to repair critical bone injuries.”