Researchers are integrating 3D printing techniques and materials such as bioactive glasses to develop customized implants and scaffolds that easily dissolve in the body and are then substituted with new tissues to promote tissue regeneration.
Bioactive glasses are phosphosilicate materials that contain calcium and sodium. Within the body, they strongly adhere to tissues and offer surfaces for growth of new cells and tissues. These materials ultimately dissolve, releasing calcium into the blood. This then reacts to form a rigid and hard mineral called hydroxylapatite, an important part of bone. In this manner, bioactive glasses can assist in bone regeneration.
One can also customize the composition of bioactive glasses to give them antimicrobial, therapeutic, and cell recruiting effects. Bioactive glasses can even be integrated with other materials to develop composites with many different properties, leading to a host of medical applications. Bone grafting is a complicated regenerative procedure, but since bioactive glasses are synthetic materials they are well-suited for such procedures.
In clinical practice, putties and particles of bioactive glass are widely used to aid the regeneration of bone, and this has been used in over a million patients. Scaffolds can also be made from bioactive glasses to support tissue regeneration in larger areas. Foaming methods can be used to produce bioactive glass scaffolds, leading to scaffolds with pore architectures that emulate the bone structure.
Conversely, controlling the pore structures of such scaffolds would be rather difficult and the scaffolds obtained would also be relatively fragile. Scaffolds are often used by surgeons for bone grafts and they can be load bearing and have precise pore architectures. With the help of 3D printing, bioactive glass structures with increased mechanical strength and finely controlled pore structures can be produced.
3D printing is a special process in which several layers of a material are laid down to create 3D structures from a digital model. Generally, 3D printing employs metals or polymers to create structures, but today scientists are using this process to 3D print composites and bioactive glass materials. This allows bioactive glass scaffolds to be accurately developed in terms of their pore structure and the ultimate shape of the scaffold.
3D-printed architectures made from bioactive glass can be employed for innovative solutions in tissue scaffolding, medical implants, surgery, and dental implants. 3D printing allows a patient to be scanned following which a special scaffold or implant can be developed and printed with the exact properties and size for them.