In December, the University of Glasgow received £2.8 million from Find a Better Way, a charity set up to help survivors of landmine blasts. The funding was granted to the university to develop a method of a 3D printed bone that involves coating plastic scaffolds with stem cells and a growth factor called BMP-2, and placing them into a device called a Nanokick bioreactor, invented by a professor at the school. The bioreactor shakes the scaffold at a rate that stimulates bone tissue to grow faster.
Although human trials of the 3D printed bone won’t be for several years, the university did get a chance to test it out recently – on a dog named Eva. The two-year-old Munsterlander was hit by a car, badly injuring her right foreleg and leaving a 2cm gap in the bone. It looked like her leg would have to be amputated – except that at Glasgow University’s veterinary hospital, where Eva was taken, veterinarian William Marshall was familiar with the technique that Professors Matt Dalby and Manuel Salmeron-Sanchez were developing. He reached out to the team, which agreed to try a modified version of the technique on Eva’s leg.
A mixture of bone chips with BMP-2 and poly(ethyl acrylate), or PEA, was placed into the gap in Eva’s leg. Seven weeks later, the bone has regrown.
“This is an exciting development,” said Professor Salmeron-Sanchez. “During research and development, the use of PEA and BMP-2 to grow new bone tissue has looked very promising, but I was not expecting the treatment to be used to help a patient for several more years. We are delighted to have had the chance to help save Eva’s leg from amputation. If I’m honest, we were not at all sure the treatment would work in such a complex infected fracture. It’s been a very rewarding experience for everyone involved.”
The success of the operation bodes well for the humans who will eventually benefit from the treatment. Although it will be a while, still, before the technique is tested on humans, the fact that it was able to repair such a complex injury means that there’s hope for survivors who have encountered landmines, millions of which remain in place around the world.