Open Source 3D Printed Bioreactor Could Transform Personalized Implants


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Researchers at Florida International University (FIU) have created an open-source bioreactor called EnduroBone using fused deposition modeling (FDM). Led by biomedical engineer Anamika Prasad, the team developed this device to create bone tissue outside the body and in the lab. The potential of this breakthrough is huge; it could transform treatments for bone injuries and diseases by making possible the growth of personalized bone implants and advancing long-term medical research. The building instructions, which use an affordable Ender 5 Plus 3D printer by Creality, are available online, allowing researchers worldwide to replicate and adapt this technology.

In the heart of FIU’s College of Engineering & Computing, Prasad and her team have been working on this 3D printable bioreactor. The device has several cylinder-shaped hollows, which are small round spaces designed to mimic the structure of natural bone. These hollows create the right environment for bone cells to grow and thrive, which is crucial for long-term survival outside the body.

The bioreactor combines mechanical movement and nutrient flow to keep the bone cells healthy. It has a motor that moves over the tissue wells where the bone samples are placed. This movement gently compresses the bone samples, simulating the natural physical forces that bones experience in the body, helping the bone cells stay active and viable.

At the same time, a pump keeps a constant flow of nutrients going to the bone cells while taking away waste. This is like how blood carries nutrients to our cells and removes waste. By providing gentle movement and nutrients, the bioreactor creates a perfect environment for the bone cells to thrive.

EnduroBone Bioreactor

EnduroBone Bioreactor. Image courtesy of FIU/HardwareX.

By providing both mechanical stimulation and steady nutrients, the bioreactor creates a highly “supportive environment” for bone cells. This setup allows researchers to study how bone cells grow, respond to treatments, and interact over extended periods. The recent research published in the journal HardwareX showed that bone samples could survive in this bioreactor for up to 28 days. This is a big deal because scientists can study how bone cells grow and react to treatments over longer periods.

Scientists can use EnduroBone to observe how bone cells change and test new treatments in a controlled setting. The bioreactor is a major step forward in bone tissue engineering, potentially transforming how we treat bone injuries and diseases.

Compared to existing systems like the MechanoCulture TX and TR, which cost over $20,000 and use indirect pneumatic compression, FIU says EnduroBone offers a more affordable and integrated solution at just $3,138. They say other commercial bioreactors, like the OsteoGen bioreactor, a device for direct perfusion commercially available from Tissue Growth Technologies, provide only basic physiological control with continuous perfusion but lack compressive mechanical stimulation, states the paper.

The linear arrangement of identical tissue wells on the base platform within the top frame, each equipped with inflow-outflow channels for nutrient media and a porous base for continuous nourishment of bone samples

Identical tissue wells on the base platform within the top frame, each equipped with inflow-outflow channels for nutrient media. Image courtesy of FIU/HardwareX.

By offering an open-source platform licensed under Creative Commons, the EnduroBone bioreactor allows researchers worldwide to replicate and build upon this innovative technology. Thanks to 3D printing, this hardware can be produced at a much lower cost compared to its commercial counterparts, making advanced bone research more affordable and widespread.

The research document offers clear and detailed instructions for building the EnduroBone bioreactor. The researchers created and posted the CAD files and printed all components using Creality’s Ender 5 Plus 3D printer with specific settings. After printing, the parts were coated with Smooth-On’s XTC-3D sealant to ensure a secure nutrient seal. The assembly process includes thorough cleaning and additional coating of the tissue wells with PDMS Sylgard-184 from Dow Corning for biocompatibility. These comprehensive guidelines make it easy for researchers to replicate the bioreactor affordably and effectively.

Going beyond basic research, Prasad’s team will use EnduroBone to design personalized implants for children suffering from osteosarcoma, a severe form of bone cancer. Supported by the Florida Cancer Innovation Fund and backed by the Florida Department of Health, this project aspires to create customized 3D implants tailored to each patient’s unique needs. In collaboration with Baptist Health’s Chief of Musculoskeletal Oncology Surgeon, Juan Prettel, the team hopes to transform cancer treatment and recovery for young patients.

The cells here (shown as green dots) are carrying out their bone-building duties. But they are doing it outside the body — inside a 3D printable device, called a bioreactor, created by FIU researchers

The cells here (shown as green dots) are carrying out their bone-building duties. But they are doing it outside the body, inside FIU’s 3D printable bioreactor. Image courtesy of FIU.

Aside from bone tissue engineering, the EnduroBone system also holds promise for cartilage research, especially in studying how cartilage degrades and turns into bone. This versatility means the bioreactor can be used in many areas of biomedical research, including testing orthopedic devices and developing new treatments in regenerative medicine, explain the researchers.

Prasad’s study titled “EnduroBone: A 3D Printed Bioreactor for Extended Bone Tissue Culture” highlights the hardware’s capacity to support long-term tissue viability, demonstrating its applicability for extended bone tissue culture. Key features of the bioreactor include its open-source design, low production cost, and incorporation of easily accessible components, making it an adaptable tool for researchers everywhere.

The team hopes EnduroBone will open new avenues for research into the effects of external stimuli on bone tissue, disease mechanisms, and potential therapeutic interventions. It was created to accelerate advances in bone biology, skeletal development, and regenerative medicine, ultimately becoming a key tool to improve healthcare.

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