Building bones with a 3-D printer

July 12, 2018 by James Shewaga, University of Saskatchewan
Professor Daniel Chen of the College of Engineering, with the 3D-Bioplotter in the U of S Bio-fabrication Laboratory. Credit: James Shewaga

Strand by strand, and layer by layer, Daniel Chen's research team is inching closer to repairing and rebuilding bones with the use of 3-D printing technology.

A leader in the exciting and emerging field of , Chen's interdisciplinary team is working with the 3-D-Bioplotter (printer) in the University of Saskatchewan's Bio-fabrication Laboratory to develop new ways to help restore bone function in individuals who have suffered serious trauma, infection, disease or defects.

"I am always excited about this kind of research," said Chen, a professor of mechanical engineering and leader of the Tissue Engineering Research Group at the U of S. "Before this we did research to repair peripheral nerves and spinal cords and cartilage as well as treat heart attacks. So, we have done some research in those applications and achieved some success and we have found that we have strengths in this area in this university. So, we are confident going ahead with this kind of research."

Chen was one of 12 U of S researchers who were awarded Collaborative Innovation Development grants in March from the Saskatchewan Health Research Foundation, receiving $50,000 in funding over the next 18 months for his new project. Chen's team is bioengineering bone substitutes (known as scaffolds) and employing the world-class imaging technology of Canada's only synchrotron in the Canadian Light Source facility on the U of S campus to track the effectiveness of their new strategies.

Previous efforts in this pioneering field of research haven't been successful in providing long-term or permanent stable solutions to restoring bone function, particularly for large bone defects and damage, since bone tissue has a limited capacity to repair itself. Chen's team is looking to bioengineer artificial bone structures to be implanted into the body to essentially serving as a template or framework to help bone regeneration.

"What we are going to do is unique in bone tissue engineering, using 3-D printing and nano-biotechnology to develop new scaffold types for bone repair," said Chen. "The other research goal is to show that we can successfully use synchrotron imaging as a new non-invasive method to monitor the bone regeneration. Since our research goal is to eventually use this for a human being, we need a non-invasive method. And with the synchrotron, we can view it in great detail, so we don't need to take this sample out of the body to see how it is regenerating."

Chen said the U of S is perfectly positioned to conduct this type of leading-edge research, combining one-of-a-kind facilities like the Canadian Light Source with the university's proven track record of success in interdisciplinary collaborative research endeavours.

"I come from an engineer's point of view, to design and build, and then I need to collaborate with researchers in life sciences and veterinary medicine, because this kind of research requires an interdisciplinary approach," said Chen, who earned his Ph.D. in 2002 at the U of S and began his teaching and research career here a year later in the College of Engineering. "In this project we tried to combine the strengths of this university together, which includes strengths in 3-D printing and strengths in life sciences and veterinary medicine, as well as strengths in imaging technology by using the synchrotron facilities. And that is the strength of this university."

Chen's team is at the forefront of this fascinating field of research, focused on improving the quality of life for people in this province and beyond, who need to restore bone function. If the pilot project proves promising with animal subjects, Chen will look to replicate the success with human patients at some point.

How soon could that happen? "That is a good question," said Chen, who earlier this year was named a Fellow of the Engineering Institute of Canada, for his exceptional contributions to engineering in this country. "When we talk about tissue engineering, the first question is when it can be translated into a human being? But it's a research process that takes time to follow the proper steps and it will very much depend on how the research is going. So, we are going to do this preliminary study and if the results are meaningful, then we will look to take the next steps toward comprehensive studies on tissue engineering."

Explore further: Decellularized cartilage-based scaffold promotes bone regeneration at fracture site

Related Stories

Decellularized cartilage-based scaffold promotes bone regeneration at fracture site

June 22, 2018
To help prevent possible complications such as nonunion at large fracture sites, researchers have developed a cartilage matrix that mimics the early stages of repair and provides the essential structural and biological properties ...

How metal scaffolds enhance the bone healing process

January 22, 2018
A new study shows how mechanically optimized constructs known as titanium-mesh scaffolds can optimize bone regeneration. The induction of bone regeneration is of importance when treating large bone defects. As demonstrated ...

Universities develop tissue diagnostic tool to look inside patientsÂ’ bones

October 3, 2013
A hip fracture after the age of 65 could lead to death for one out of four people, but UK scientists are working on a method that will help diagnose weakened bones before they break and provide more effective treatment should ...

Engineered cartilage template to heal broken bones

March 8, 2018
A team of UConn Health researchers has designed a novel, hybrid hydrogel system to help address some of the challenges in repairing bone in the event of injury. The UConn Health team, led by associate professor of orthopedic ...

Breakthrough for bone regeneration via double-cell-layered tissue engineering technique

October 6, 2016
Various technologies have been developed to introduce laboratory-grown bone-forming cells into bone defects to promote their repair. However, these have many limitations as the conditions of the cells and their surroundings ...

Recommended for you

Japanese team creates human oogonia using human stem cells in artificial mouse ovaries

September 21, 2018
A team of researchers with members from several institutions in Japan has successfully generated human oogonia inside of artificial mouse ovaries using human stem cells. In their paper published in the journal Science, the ...

A new approach to developing a vaccine against vivax malaria

September 21, 2018
A novel study reports an innovative approach for developing a vaccine against Plasmodium vivax, the most prevalent human malaria parasite outside sub-Saharan Africa. The study led by Hernando A. del Portillo and Carmen Fernandez-Becerra, ...

A Trojan Horse delivery for treating a rare, potentially deadly, blood-clotting disorder

September 21, 2018
In proof-of-concept experiments, University of Alabama at Birmingham researchers have highlighted a potential therapy for a rare but potentially deadly blood-clotting disorder, TTP. The researchers deliver this therapeutic ...

Researchers explore how changes in diet alter microbiome in artificial intestine

September 21, 2018
Using an artificial intestine they created, researchers have shown that the microbiome can quickly adapt from the bacterial equivalent of a typical western diet to one composed exclusively of dietary fats. That adaptation ...

Study identifies stem cell that gives rise to new bone and cartilage in humans

September 20, 2018
A decade-long effort led by Stanford University School of Medicine scientists has been rewarded with the identification of the human skeletal stem cell.

Scientists grow human esophagus in lab

September 20, 2018
Scientists working to bioengineer the entire human gastrointestinal system in a laboratory now report using pluripotent stem cells to grow human esophageal organoids.


Please sign in to add a comment. Registration is free, and takes less than a minute. Read more

Click here to reset your password.
Sign in to get notified via email when new comments are made.