A multi-disciplinary team of engineers and medical professionals at the University of Malta and Mater Dei Hospital has made what has been described as “a great discovery” that forms part of the development of an alternative solution to fix bone fractures – essentially metal-based tailor-made bone scaffolds that degrade and allow the patient’s own bone to regrow.
One of the traditional processes used to fix bone fractures is known as bone grafting and can be both painful and risky. It involves a surgical operation in which bone tissues are taken from a different place in the patient’s own body. The problem with this method is that the end result is not guaranteed as the injury can fail to heal properly.
Another solution is a permanent metal implant or other hardware, but with each surgery, bone stock keeps diminishing.
Led by biomaterials engineer Prof. Ing. Joseph Buhagiar at the University of Malta, the team that is currently developing this technology is using medical imaging, 3D printing and powder metallurgy.
In very simple terms, the process begins with the patient undergoing a CT scan to produce a 3D image of the affected area, the latter used as a basis to construct the specific bone implant. The template is then printed via a very specific 3D printer.
The ‘sticky’ element is what makes this revolutionary
Different techniques of 3D printing were tested by the team and it was during this process that a certain ‘stickiness’ was discovered. It is this same ‘stickiness’ that allows a corrosion response as the patient’s bone regeneration takes over.
The team said in a statement that the “stickiness was a great discovery, allowing the powdered metal in the next step to stick to the template without a binder”.
Stickiness is the result of mixing the two irons manganese and silver. In order to reach the ideal ‘stickiness’ to the bone template, the best recipe of both irons is still being tested by the team.
Finally, the template is baked at 450 degrees Celsius for the template to burn, then at 1120 degrees Celsius for metal powders to form a solid implant.
Tested? Yes. Moving forward.
These new implants were first tested on several pork bones and the results were pretty successful as the scaffolds proved easy to handle.
Toxicity and bacterial tests are also underway and looking very positive. Next in line is the mission to find an investor for the technology.
Prof. Ing. Buhagiar said: “It is now time to pass this knowledge and project on. The BioSA project needs to go to people who can move the scaffolds on to human trials so we can hopefully one day see them used to better a patient’s life”.
Thumbs up for positive innovation. We love how science can improve people’s quality of lives.