Tag Archives: 3-d printing

We’re one step closer to printing functional human ovaries

Researchers at the Ann & Robert H. Lurie Children’s Hospital of Chicago are paving the way towards 3-D printed artificial ovaries.

The team identified and mapped the locations of structural proteins in a pig ovary, and plan to use the data to develop a new ink that can be printed into a fully-functioning bio-prosthetic ovary.

“We are one step closer to restoring fertility and hormone production in young women who survive childhood cancer but enter early menopause as a late effect. There are still several steps to go and we are excited to test our new inks,” says senior author Dr. Monica Laronda, Assistant Professor of Pediatrics at Northwestern University Feinberg School of Medicine and the Director of the hospital’s Basic and Translational Research, Fertility & Hormone Preservation & Restoration Program.

We should all have the chance to decide for ourselves whether to become a parent or not. However, this choice is denied to many through chance or medical necessity. But what’s science for, if not to persuade the hand of fate towards a gentler course?

Dr. Laronda and three of her colleagues received a patent for the creation of an artificial ovary in November of 2019, after 3-D printing one and implanting it in a sterile mouse. The mouse later went on to become pregnant and give birth to a litter of live pups.

For the present study, the team looked at the structure of pig ovaries, including their extracellular matrix (ECM) and associated proteins. This step allowed them to identify the different expression levels of 42 known matrisomes (i.e. proteins associated with the ECM), and to identify 11 previously-unknown such proteins. These matrisomes act as “scaffold proteins” for the ovary, the team explains, and as such can act as the base material for 3-D printing the organ.

Unlike their previous research focused on mice, the current study has a lot more relevance for us. “The structural proteins from a pig ovary are the same type of proteins found in humans,” Dr. Laronda explains, meaning that their findings can contribute directly to applications with human patients. Premature ovarian insufficiency (POI), or early menopause affects approximately 1 in 6 female cancer survivors as an unintentional result of treatment. In the US alone, roughly 11,000 cases of cancer in children aged 0 to 14 are reported each year, the team adds, leading to an estimated 1,800 new cases of gonadal (reproductive) insufficiency per year.

“We have developed a pipeline for identifying and mapping scaffold proteins at the organ level,” she adds. “It is the first time that this has been accomplished and we hope it will spur further research into the microenvironment of other organs.”

“This is a huge step forward for girls who undergo fertility-damaging cancer treatments.”

The approach used by the team for this study can be applied to identify and map structural proteins in other organs as well, the authors explain. Other fully-functional, 3-D printed organs fit for human use might thus soon be in the works as well.

The paper “Proteomic analyses of decellularized porcine ovaries identified new matrisome proteins and spatial differences across and within ovarian compartments” has been published in the journal Scientific Reports.

Complex glass objects 3D-printed using new take on old method

Researchers at ETH Zürich have developed the first 3D-printing method that can produce highly-complex, porous glass objects. The approach relies on a special resin that can be cured using ultraviolet (UV) light.

Several of the 3-D printed objects created by the team.
Image credits Group for Complex Materials / ETH Zurich.

Glass has been a long-standing goal of 3D-printing enthusiasts for a long time now; it’s also proven to be the most elusive. The inherent problem regarding printable glass is that the material requires very high temperatures to process. The two approaches we’ve tried so far are to either ‘print’ molten glass — which requires expensive and specialized heat-resistant equipment — or to use ceramic powders as ink to sinter into glass — an approach that sacrifices precision and thus the complexity of the finished product.

In order to solve the issue, the team from ETH Zurich went back to the roots, and worked from stereolithography, one of the first 3-D printing techniques developed during the 1980s. They developed a resin which contains a plastic material and organic molecules tied to glass precursors that can be hardened by exposure to UV light.

A light touch

When blasted with UV light — the team says commercially available Digital Light Processing technology works just fine — photosensitive components in the resin bind together. The plastic in the ink forms into a maze-like polymer that provides the structural framework. Ceramic-bearing molecules link together in the empty areas created by the framework.

This allows an object to be built layer-by-layer, and by modifying the intensity of the UV light, the team can change various parameters in each layer. Weak light intensity results in large pores, for example, while intense illumination produces small pores.

“We discovered that by accident, but we can use this to directly influence the pore size of the printed object,” says Kunal Masania, a co-author of the study.

So where does the glass fit into this? The team explains that they can modify the microstructure of their (hardened) ink by mixing silica with borate or phosphate and adding it to the resin. Silica is the main component of glass, while borate and phosphate are added to specialized, heat-resistant and optical glass respectively. The team explains that their approach allows for single or multiple types of inks to be mixed into a single object, allowing for several kinds of glass to be produced in the end.

The final step involves using heat to actually turn the hardened ink into glass. The printed ‘blanks’ are fired at 600˚C, which burns away the polymer framework, and then at 1000˚C to transform the ceramic structure into glass. During the thermal treatment, the blanks shrink significantly, the authors report, while becoming as transparent and hard as window glass.

So far, the approach can only be used for small objects — about the size of a die. Larger objects such as bottles, drinking glasses, or window panes cannot be produced this way, but that wasn’t the goal here, Masania explains. The team wanted to prove that glass is a viable material for 3D-printing, he explains.

The team has applied for a patent on their technology and are negotiating with industry representatives to take their process to market.

The paper “Three-dimensional printing of multicomponent glasses using phase-separating resins” has been published in the journal Nature Materials.

titanium ribcage

Doctors transplant world’s first 3-D printed rib cage

Reconstructive surgery just got an upgrade after a patient who had lost four ribs and part of his sternum had a 3-D printed titanium replica fitted instead. This was the first such procedure. Although the operation was a sound success with the replica matching like a glove, doctors say that this sort of intervention is only for really extreme cases. You can’t become Wolverine overnight, not exactly at least.

titanium ribcage

Image: CSIRO

 

The implant was printed with a special metal printer from an Australian company called Anatomics, while the operation was done by surgeons at the Salamanca University Hospital, Spain. The printer fires an electron beam that melts a titanium powder layer by layer until the desired shape is reached. This you get a 100% custom design prosthesis, with a level of complexity unrivaled by traditional methods. Typically, you’d start with metal plates and bars, gradually twisting and welding until you get something that looks like a rib cage or sternum.

The implant attaches directly to the bone by eight clamps. Image: CSIRO

The implant attaches directly to the bone by eight clamps. Image: CSIRO

 

Despite it’s made from titanium, the implant is comfortable.  The four ribs are thin and flexible, so breathing is easy.

Also read about the first 3-D printed skull implant or the 3-D printed mask for the patient who had lost his face to cancer.

3d-printing-pen

This pen 3-D prints bone directly on site of injury

A handheld bio pen developed in the labs of the University of Wollongong will allow surgeons to design customised implants during surgery. (c)  University of Wollongong

A handheld bio pen developed in the labs of the University of Wollongong will allow surgeons to design customised implants during surgery. (c) University of Wollongong

Medicine and 3-d printing fit together like a glove. Imagine how many transplants and surgical procedures are so difficult to make or downright impossible because you can’t find a matching tissue or body part for the patient at hand. With 3-D printers, you can even make new bones – identical to those modeled from a patient that would require them. Now, researchers at University of Wollongong (UOW), Australia have unveiled a handheld tool, that closely resembles a pen, which doctors can use to locally 3-D print bone on the spot.

A 3-D printing ‘pen’

The bone pen delivers live cells and growth factors directly to the site of injury, like a sort of ‘stem cell’ ink, accelerating the regeneration of functional bone and cartilage. The cell material is confined inside a biopolymer such as alginate (seaweed extract),  while a second gel layer protects it at the outside. While the two layers of gel are combined in the pen head following extrusion and become dispersed upon an area of the doctor’s choosing,  a low powered ultra-violet light source is fixed to the device that solidifies the inks.

“The combination of materials science and next-generation fabrication technology is creating opportunities that can only be executed through effective collaborations such as this,” ACES Director Professor Gordon Wallace said.

“What’s more, advances in 3D printing are enabling further hardware innovations in a rapid manner.”

UOW’s Professor Gordon Wallace and his team at the Australian Research Council Centre of Excellence for Electromaterials Science developed the device.

UOW’s Professor Gordon Wallace and his team at the Australian Research Council Centre of Excellence for Electromaterials Science developed the device.

Once the cells are ‘drawn’ onto the surgery site they will multiply, become differentiated into nerve cells, muscle cells or bone cells and will eventually turn from individual cells into a thriving community of cells in the form of a functioning a tissue, such as nerves, or a muscle.

“This type of treatment may be suitable for repairing acutely damaged bone and cartilage, for example from sporting or motor vehicle injuries. Professor Wallace’s research team brings together the science of stem cells and polymer chemistry to help surgeons design and personalise solutions for reconstructing bone and joint defects in real time,” said Professor Peter Choong, Director of Orthopaedics at St Vincent’s Hospital Melbourne and the Sir Hugh Devine Professor of Surgery, University of Melbourne.