AMS Spring 2023

Spinal Orthopedics: PhD Student at Stevens Institute of Technology Creates 3D Printed Scaffolds at 8 Cents Each

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There are so many things we can 3D print today, from entire homes and cars to integral parts being created today in nearly every industry, from aerospace to apparel. The medical field, however, has benefited from countless 3D printed innovations—with many of them pertaining to scaffolds meant for various purposes and often aiding in tissue and bone growth.

The overall benefits of 3D printing continue to be proven by those using the technology all over the world, demonstrating self-sustainability in manufacturing as well as allowing for products that could not have been created before due to a range of hardware, software, materials, and textures. And while some products may be expensive to produce en masse via 3D printing, often affordability is a major part of the equation—offering stunning savings. This is certainly the case with a new 3D printed plastic scaffold that costs a mere eight cents to 3D print, and may be able to promote bone growth at a more accelerated rate.

At only an inch and a quarter wide, the new scaffold created at the Stevens Institute of Technology will further spinal bone tissue regrowth even further. Constance Maglaras, a biomedical engineering PhD candidate at Stevens, was the main designer behind the scaffolding. Years of experience in studying spinal orthopedics—since she was a sophomore at Stevens—have led her to this point, winning first prize in Johnson & Johnson’s 2017 Engineering Showcase for a poster and the accompanying thesis presentation, ‘Interconnective Strut Based, Bioresorbable Bone Scaffolds: The Future of Orthopaedic Fusion.’

Tony Valdevit is a biomedical engineering professor at Stevens who also serves as the thesis advisor for Maglaras. He has been working with her for seven years, both teaching and supervising her research as she earned both her undergraduate and master’s degrees at Stevens.

“I knew her device would work well. We didn’t know it would work this well,” says Valdevit.

The futuristic technology and techniques being explored by Maglaras aid in making implants created from the patient’s specific stem cells. With the scaffolds created by Maglaras, the cells can live for about a month outside the body, evolving into bone cells. Patient-specific medicine is available through this method as well, as each scaffold can be customized to the patient’s body bone density. Both the shape and durability of scaffolds are something that researchers have struggled with previously though. For this project, the shape was refined many times.

“It’s a difficult mix to get right. And getting a printer to also print this complex shape correctly was another challenge,” said Maglaras. “As soon as we saw it come off the printer, we looked at each other and knew this was ‘it’.”

Valdevit explained that the mechanical quality of the scaffold went beyond his expectations as Maglaras continued to increase the load on the 3D printed scaffold during each test—causing it to compress further, but not break.

“What makes this special is that it can withstand loads greater than the human spine normally needs to,” notes Maglaras. “No other scaffold that I’ve come across is so lightweight and can withstand such loads. Once the cells have matured within the scaffold, it is almost like implanting a piece of customized bone, because it is made of the patient’s own cells. Theoretically, there is no immunological risk in the process.”

She will continue her work upon graduating in the spring of this year, and is even thinking about licensing the new technology as she continues to perfect it. The idea of a startup based on this idea is “very exciting” to her as she looks toward the future and potential work with investors and commercialization.

“This project is innovative, inspiring, and full of hope for patients suffering from vertebral injuries. It brings together emerging technologies that will soon personalize healthcare in unimaginable ways,” noted Johnson & Johnson Senior Director of Engineering and Design Jose Abreu. “We at Johnson & Johnson strive to improve the lives of all patients who use our products. This project aligns beautifully with our core principles.”

Discuss in the 3D Printed Bone Scaffolds forum at 3DPB.com.

[Source / Images: Stevens Institute of Technology]

 

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