Broken bones are one of the common ailments, which is easily healed and in most cases leaving no trace. Most the broken bone, diagnosis involves metal screws and filament to be embedded in the bones to make it structurally viable and most of these external metal filaments are left even after when the bone has healed. These left out metal screws in the patient’s body can lead to other serious problems like infection or arthritis. Researchers at University of Pittsburgh recently are pondering upon using 3D printing to heal and repair fractured bones and doing away with potentially harmful metal screws altogether and the researchers might have just found the right solution.
Engineering team lead by professor Prashant Kumpta at the University of Pittsburgh have developed innovative putty made out of iron and magnesium alloy, the putty can be 3D printed to fit perfectly for a broken bone, the 3D printed putty process can be custom made to be implanted into the fracture aiding healing. This wonderful putty clinches on to the fractured bone until it heals and gradually dissolves away without leaving any residue.
Photo credit: Pam Panchak/Post-Gazette
The putty is an amalgam of a proprietary powder made out of calcium phosphate, water based liquid and other secret ingredients, such ingredients has been the focus of the researchers at the university, especially for who are looking for innovative materials which can be used in the medical applications. As per professor Kumpta, researchers are focusing on flexibility and customizable properties of 3D printing to make it more viable to patients and to the overall medical science.
The research was well funded from various sources, largest funding, $4 million came from the United States Department of Defense, followed by $1.2 million from the National Institute of Health and $500,000 from Pennsylvania state. Support technology – 3D printing was funded by the National Science Foundation ($ 3 million) and America makes ($295,000).
As per Kumpta, the biggest hurdle the researchers faced is to come up with a material that does not harm the body by any means and actually aid in healing the broken bones. The material also had to dissolve away, leaving no trace at the right time when the actual bones have recovered and hardened.
Preliminary tests of the putty were carried out on rabbits and rats, the team observed in the case of rabbit bones took 8 weeks to recover and same time was taken for the putty to dissolve.
The next agenda for the team is to get it approved by FDA, as per Kumpta – this would not be a problem since all the ingredients which went into making this putty is already FDA approved. The university has already patented the “putty” and has licensed it to an external clinic for further medical testing.
Researchers are also looking forward to using magnesium alloys and 3D print them as scaffolds, as per the team, properties of magnesium is very similar to natural bones and it is easily absorbable by a human body. Researchers have also found a way to calibrate the rate of magnesium getting dissolved in a human body based on the fractured bone.
As Kumpta pointed out the magnesium implants is yet to be approved by FDA for medical purpose, however, he sees tremendous benefits in usage of magnesium scaffolds that can hold bones firmly. Serious fractures can be effectively healed with the combination of magnesium and putty, without the need for follow up operations to remove the traditional metal braces in case of serious bone fractures.
Kumpta and his team at the university are confident of the approvals given the tremendous benefits for patients. As per Kumpta, the future is bright, but may take some time for it to be available in clinics.