Dental Tribune America

Lego inspires researchers to build individually adaptable bricks for tissue repair

PORTLAND, Ore., U.S.: Biomaterial scaffolds have served as the foundation of tissue engineering; however, they are often difficult to scale in size or shape in order to fit defect‐specific dimensions. Researchers from the Oregon Health and Science University (OHSU) in Portland have now developed small 3D-printed bricks that serve as scaffolding for hard and soft tissue. They believe that this technology could be used for bone augmentation before dental implantation.

“Our patent pending scaffolding is easy to use; it can be stacked together like Legos and placed in thousands of different configurations to match the complexity and size of almost any situation,” said Dr. Luiz Bertassoni, who led the technology’s development and is an associate professor in the OHSU School of Dentistry, in a press release.

A unique advantage of this new scaffolding system is that its hollow blocks can be filled with small amounts of gel containing various growth factors that are precisely placed closest to where they are needed. The study found growth factor-filled blocks placed near repaired rat bones led to about three times more blood vessel growth than did conventional scaffolding material.

“The 3D-printed microcage technology improves healing by stimulating the right type of cells to grow in the right place, and at the right time,” said co-author Dr. Ramesh Subbiah, a postdoctoral scholar at the university and a specialist in growth factor delivery. “Different growth factors can be placed inside each block, enabling us to more precisely and quickly repair tissue.”

The small devices are modular and can be assembled to fit into almost any space. When block segments, each consisting of four layers of four bricks by four bricks, are pieced together, the researchers estimate that more than 29,000 different configurations can be created.

The researchers plan to test the technology’s ability to repair more complex bone fractures in rats or larger animals in the future. By changing the composition of the technology’s 3D-printed materials, they envision that it could also be used to build or repair soft tissue.

The study, titled “3D printing of microgel‐loaded modular microcages as instructive scaffolds for tissue engineering,” was published online on July 23, 2020, in Advanced Materials, ahead of inclusion in an issue.

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