3D-printed 'hyperelastic bone' could be the future of reconstructive surgery

Performing a bone implantation surgery has never been simple. In majority of cases, the bone is extracted from elsewhere in the body to replace the missing piece. This might result in other complications or painful infection. While adults can occasionally be given a metallic implant, such fix cannot be applied to growing children. However, engineers from Northwestern University developed a 3-D printable ink that produces a synthetic bone implant which could revolutionize reconstructive surgery.
Dubbed the ‘hyperelastic bone (HB)’, this printed biomaterial is mostly made of a mineral called hydroxyapatite – a form of calcium naturally found in bones. Described to be extremely brittle to work with, the scientists mixed it with a polymer for additional flexibility. Given its structure, it bears one significant advantage over the traditional way of bone implant surgery – it can be tailored to individual pacients. The hyperelastic bone can be easily molded, shaped or cut during a procedure to exactly fit the area where it is needed. Not only is this faster, but also less painful.
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Hyperelastic bone can be 3D-printed to make surgical implants tailored to the individual. (Source: Adam Jakus)

The synthetic bone implant comprises natural minerals and is highly porous and absorbent. Porosity is particularly important to encourage the growth of blood vessels in the 3D-printed scaffolds.
While the hyperelastic bone hasn’t been tested in humans yet, early experiments done on animals shown great promise. One of the experiment involved using the HB to fuse two vertebrae together in the spine of a rat, as The Verge reports. In another one, the scientists actually placed human stem cells on the scaffolds, resulting in the cells not only growing on the scaffolds, but also producing their own bone minerals.

“We can incorporate antibiotics [since the 3D printing process of HB can be performed at room temperature] to reduce the possibility of infection after surgery,” said Ramille N. Shah, who led the research. “We also can combine the ink with different types of growth factors, if needed, to further enhance regeneration. It’s really a multi-functional material.”

Hyperelastic bone is much more flexible than traditional materials. (Source: Adam Jakus)

According to Adam E. Jakus, a postdoctoral fellow in Shah’s laboratory, and the paper‘s first author, the hyperelastic bone could really be ideal for developing countries. It is cheap to manufacture and easy to package and ship. That would eliminate the need of creating any complex biomaterial on the spot, which would require to be heavily refrigerated or frozen.
Shah imagines that hospitals may one day have 3-D printers, where they can print customized implants while the patient waits. “The turnaround time for an implant that’s specialized for a customer could be within 24 hours,” Shah said. “That could change the world of craniofacial and orthopaedic surgery, and, I hope, will improve patient outcomes.” Before any of that can happen, it obviously has to be tested in humans first. Shah hopes to do that within five years.


World’s biggest body scanning project yields first results

It is no secret that human body (and brain especially) works in somewhat strange ways that can be hard to decipher. Only recently, scientists presented a new brain map that features our “CPU” in painstaking detail. Still, narrowing down what exactly is responsible for certain severe diseases is no small task. But now, medical researchers worldwide got to take a peek at the initial results of the world’s largest health imaging study. The remarkable data stemming from the first 5,000 participants of UK Biobank that took part in the study could lead to a better understanding of brain diseases (such as dementia or Alzheimer’s) and how they correlate with a broad range of other diseases (such as osteoporosis, arthritis, cancer, heart attacks and stroke) and disease risks.
Having launched in April 2016 — after a number of years of planning — UK Biobank already scanned 10,000 people and hopes to achieve the ambitious goal of imaging all 100,000 of them. In addition to brain scans, the scientists also took images of heart, body, bone and blood vessels. An important objective of the UK Biobank is to provide a resource for discovery of new insights into diseases (like Alzheimer’s), which demands scanning healthy subjects years or decades before they develop symptoms. The collected data could guide the development of earlier targeted treatment that could in the future prevent major diseases from ever happening.

“We are using cutting-edge MRI scans and Big Data analysis methods to get the most comprehensive window into the brain that current imaging technology allows. These results are just a first glimpse into this massive, rich dataset that will emerge in the coming years. It is an unparalleled resource that will transform our understanding of many common diseases.” explains Professor Karla Miller, one of the co-authors of the paper on brain imaging part of UK Biobank.

The high quality of the imaging data and very large number of subjects allowed researchers to identify more than 30,000 significant associations between the many different brain imaging measures and the non-imaging measures. Results reported include:

  • Associations between people’s speed of thought and the size of brain structures. These effects increased in strength as people aged.
  • A negative correlation between brain activity during a simple shape-matching task and intelligence. This might be because the people who scored more highly on the cognitive tests needed to use less of their brain to carry out the task.
  • A pattern of strong associations between higher blood pressure, greater alcohol consumption, and several measures that could reflect injury to connections in the brain.
  • Or even an unusual pattern showing an association between brain images and cheese consumption.

Professor Steve Smith, one of the paper’s co-authors, identifies 3 types of brain imaging conducted in the study which will reveal how the working of the brain can change with aging and disease. The first is “structural imaging” — that tells us about brain anatomy — the shapes and sizes of the different parts of the brain. Another kind — “functional MRI” — tells us about complex patterns of brain activity. The third kind — “diffusion MRI” tells us about the brain’s wiring diagram.
Within another 5 years — once UK Biobank completes the scanning of all 100,000 participants — this will become by far the largest brain imaging study ever conducted. It is important to emphasize that UK Biobank is an “observational” study that characterises a cross-section of individuals. Thus, it’s not always straightforward to establish which factors cause which, but such results should help scientists to define much more precise questions to address in the future search for ways of preventing or treating brain disease.


Photon-colliding optical microscope achieves limit breaking resolution

Original news release was issued by the Colorado State University, written by A. J. Manning.

Two-photon excitation microscopy was first observed in 1961. Although it was first theorized about back in 1930s, only the invention of laser made it possible. Then it had to wait another thirty years, when in the 1991 it was perfected as living tissue imaging method. Until recently, there have not been major improvements on this method within the field of optical microscopy. Now, an innovative technique was used by researchers from Colorado State University. To better understand this, one has to dive into the recent developments surrounding microscopes.

The last major breakthrough happened in 2014, when the Nobel Prize in Chemistry was awarded to a team responsible for super-resolved fluorescence microscopy. This was an important change as it went past the standing limits of light diffraction – a key measure in microscopy. Diffraction of a wave as a phenomenon can be observed the easiest with a sound coming through, let’s say, a door. With light, it is a bit different, as we do not normally perceive it. We see a shadow and assume the light did not diffract. But it does diffract, as we now know that light also behaves as a wave.

In the field of microscopy, the humanly-imperceivable levels of diffraction can destroy the whole image. That is why the scientists are trying hard to limit it as much as possible. Optical microscope could reach the unprecedented level of resolution using fluorescence instead of more traditional reflection or absorption, as shown by the winners of the 2014 Nobel Prize in Chemistry. The CSU team is using this technology where a specific wavelength is emitted on the object, which either has the needed properties (otherwise a dye is added) and the light returned has a much longer wavelength, limiting the diffraction.

The other method used at CSU is called second-harmonic generation. This means the two photons are destroyed, creating a single photon with a higher frequency. The aforementioned methods are often used with one another, but team from CSU pushed the limits a bit further, making their custom microscope capable of using the two methods simultaneously for creation of a single image. The result is an unprecedented resolution achieved by an optical microscope.

These are the simultaneously imaged cadmium solar cells a) the standard b) the enhanced one; Imagesource:

Besides the obvious benefit of higher resolution, the microscope still allows for an imaging on whole living organisms, there is no need for glass slides as with most super-resolution techniques. “If we can do this below the surface of a biological sample such as live tissue, that is the utility of this,” Randy Bartels, professor in the Department of Electrical and Computer Engineering, said. “We can beat the diffraction limit of a canonical two-photon microscope.” The far reaching implication of the CSU’s microscope project a bright future, in which doctors could obtain more biological information with a less complicated procedure.


ReAnima will try to restore brain function of the dead

Research in medical science often comes to certain ethical barriers. Especially today, when a lot of research is done around the very origin of a human being. On the other hand, there are companies like Bioquark, interested in the final moments of human life. Bioquark’s project named ReAnima has recently been granted an approval from Institutional Review Board in the US to conduct its first trial. Its name – Non-randomized, open-labeled, interventional, single group, proof of concept study with multi-modality approach in cases of brain death due to traumatic brain injury having diffuse axonal injury. Its aim – to test if it is possible to reverse brain death.

Each year, for over 60 million people, brain death is the final state from which they never recover. Concept studies have shown that it should be possible to alter this state via medical intervention. ReAnima’s first trial will be carried out in India, on 20 subjects in the state of brain death. Already pronounced dead, as the brain ceased to function irreparably, the subjects’ other bodily functions will be kept operating via life support. A combination of approaches will be applied, varying from stem cell injections, peptides cocktails, lasers and other nerve stimulation techniques. The task of these is to restart the normal, or even limited, function of the brain. Dr. Sergei Paylian, Founder, President, and Chief Science Officer of Bioquark Inc.:

Dr. Sergei Paylian

“Through our study, we will gain unique insights into the state of human brain death, which will have important connections to future therapeutic development for other severe disorders of consciousness, such as coma, and the vegetative and minimally conscious states, as well as a range of degenerative CNS conditions, including Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s disease.”

Exploration in this field was largely fueled by observing the capacity of amphibians, planarians, and certain fish, which can rebuild large parts of their brain after suffering a brain injury. This study will be the first of its kind, so it is necessary to mention its importance even now, when it did not yet produce any results. ReAnima is still looking for its subjects, but it also has plans for further research. At least five more projects are planned by the company, however, details of these remain unknown.