While we’ve always known turmeric to be a versatile spice—it’s great in curries and lattes!—we didn’t realize just how multi-use it could be. Now, however, thanks to a research initiative coming out of Washington State University (WSU), the benefits of using turmeric in the production of 3D printed ceramic bone scaffolds have become apparent.
Though the combination of turmeric and 3D printing may seem like a far stretch from our regular turmeric uses, the spice actually has a long history of medicinal use and has been proven to help alleviate symptoms for arthritis, heartburn and many other health conditions because of its antioxidant, anti-inflammatory and bone-regeneration properties. It was this long history that led the WSU researchers to explore the use of turmeric alongside cutting-edge biomedical devices.
In a recently published study, the WSU researchers coated 3D printed ceramic bone scaffolds with curcumin (the chemical in turmeric that gives it its vibrant yellow color) in an effort to promote bone regeneration. By adding curcumin to a “water-loving polymer” and applying it to a scaffold 3D printed from ceramic, the idea was to have the scaffold gradually release the curcumin into the host’s body.
The results reported by the team are pretty impressive: they saw a 30-45 percent improvement of the 3D printed scaffolds’ bone-growing promotion with the curcuma coating. In other words, the presence of the turmeric-derived chemical increased the proliferation of new bone cells as well as blood vessels in the tissue surrounding the implant.
Currently, the team—led by Susmita Bose, the Herman and Brita Lindholm Endowed Chair Professor in the School of Mechanical and Materials Engineering at WSU—is conducting further investigations into how curcumin can be better used to promote bone regrowth in 3D printable implants. One important challenge facing the team is figuring out the best way to deliver the curcumin which, like most natural compounds, is made up of large organic molecules.
“You have to use the right vehicle for delivery,” explained Bose. “We need to load and get it released in a controlled and sustained way. The chemistry of vehicle delivery is very important.”
Turmeric is one of the first natural substances that the WSU research team is exploring in regards to 3D printed implants, but it also plans to study other natural ingredients with medicinal properties, such as aloe vera, garlic, saffron, oregano, ginger and Vitamin D. These, says Bose, all have properties that can promote natural bone growth and be used to improve bone disorders such as osteoporosis.
Affecting millions of people in the U.S. alone, osteoporosis is a disease in which the body loses the ability to produce new bone cells, resulting in bone loss and weaker existing bones. In short, the condition causes the process of bone cell cycling (which consists of bone forming and resorbing cells) to be diminished. Current treatments for osteoporosis consist of stopping the destruction of existing bone by forming new bone. But despite the effectiveness of this treatment in increasing bone density, it can lead to poorer quality bones overall because of an “imbalance in the natural bone remodelling cycle.”
By applying turmeric-derived curcumin to 3D printed bone implants, Bose and her team are ultimately hoping to provide a way to create healthier bone in osteoporosis patients without negatively impacting the bone remodeling cycle.
The innovative medical research study was recently published in the journal Materials Today Chemistry.