Dr. John A. Svizek, a scientist at the University of Arizona College of Medicine – Tucson, has received a five-year, $2 million grant from the United States Department of Defense to launch a study focusing on how to heal broken bones with a combination of adult stem cells and 3D printing. Dr. Svizek, a biomedical engineer and professor of orthopedic surgery, hopes that the study will result in the ability to fix even the most devastating fractures.
“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,” he said. “This is a really big problem for the military, where explosions or combat injuries can cause big bone defects.”
Dr. Svizek’s lab, with the help of clinical partners in the UA Department of Orthopedic Surgery, plans to 3D print plastic scaffolds that can replace large segments of missing or shattered bone. The scaffolds will be filled with adult stem cells and calcium particles, which lead to faster healing and bone growth. Pilot studies in Dr. Svizek’s lab have been promising.
“We achieved complete bone formation, covering a large bone defect in about three months. Now we want to make that healing process even faster,” he said.
Dr. Svizek’s team will explore the idea that exercise early in the recovery process can speed healing.
“Studies have shown that exercise makes your bones grow, so maybe we can make bone on our scaffolds grow even faster with exercise,” Dr. Szivek said.
The 3D printed bone scaffolds will be implanted with tiny sensors that can wirelessly transmit data on activity. They will analyze how much weight is being put on the scaffold and for how much time. Bone size changes in a group that regularly exercises will be compared with an inactive group. Dr. Svizek and his team theorize that the active group will show faster bone growth, and he hopes to develop guidelines for post-surgical physical therapy by showing that exercise helps with better bone formation.
Current treatment of severe bone injuries typically fails and requires repeated surgeries.
“Patients often re-break the damaged bone area after surgeons try to repair it and the limb will eventually be amputated,” Dr. Szivek explained. “There’s just no good way of regenerating or re-growing long bone segments right now.”
“That’s why we need to develop a way to grow bone as quickly as possible – to help the body while it is still able to grow and replace the bone,” Dr. Szivek said.
He anticipates that if the study is successful, clinical trials will take place in military personnel. He also hopes that the technique can be used to help patients with bone cancer.
“This is an incredible example of the kind of innovative research that is made by possible by technological advancement through the convergence of the biological, physical and digital worlds, and exactly the kind of project that demonstrates how the UA is a leader in cutting-edge solutions to difficult challenges,” said UA President Robert A. Robbins, M.D. “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. I am confident their unique research will lead to the development of more effective treatments to repair critical bone injuries.”
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