Loughborough team optimises topology to promote bone growth

New orthopedic implants that promote faster healing could be available in the future after research reveals which structures best promote bone healing.

bone healing
Different designs used in the study consisting of 2 TPMS-like structures (1st and 2nd from left), 2 Trabecular-like structures (3rd and 4th from left) and the typical lattice currently used as a control (far right). Image: LU/Multifunctional Materials Manufacturing Lab

The study, led by Dr. Carmen Torres-Sanchez, a Reader in Multifunctional Materials Manufacturing at Loughborough University, tested implant designs currently in use and compared them with new designs to better understand which structures favor bone-forming cells.

dr. Torres-Sanchez and her team found that the cells are sensitive to topology and that this can be exploited to help tissue heal faster.

The new article, published in the Advanced Engineering Materials Journal, shows that the researchers were able to accelerate bone healing by making design adjustments. This study has also been published in a special series entitled Women in technical materials.

dr. Torres-Sanchez said she hopes the study results “will see clinical application in the very near future to help patients with trauma and bone cancer.”

Orthopedic implants are used to replace missing joints or bone, or to support damaged or diseased bone.

Bones consist of cavities and pores, which give the bone its biological and mechanical properties. Implants appear to mimic this porous structure to promote faster healing and integration of the implant into the body and mimic the mechanical properties of bone, including the ability to withstand forces generated by motion.

In Dr. Torres-Sanchez’s study, two new types of designs were used, namely triple periodic minimal surface area (TPMS) and trabecular-like structures.

dr. Torres-Sanchez and team, in collaboration with industrial partners Alloyed Ltd and Core Specialists Ltd, tested the mechanical properties of TPMS and trabecular-like structures by 3D printing cuboidal scaffolds with a biocompatible material such as titanium.

The mechanical properties of these scaffolds were tested by applying forces that mimic the physiological loads implants would be exposed to in the body, to find out if the new designs could withstand them and at what point they would fail.

The biological performance of the designs was assessed by adding pre-osteoblasts – precursor cells of osteoblasts (bone-building cells) – to the inside of the scaffolds to see if the cells could evolve into mineral material, which forms bone.

The researchers found that cells prefer the more random distribution of porosity, as seen in trabecular scaffolds, because they “seem to identify them as home” when the pore structure is not organized.

The researchers were able to modify the site’s design to speed up the formation of mineral material.

In a statement, Dr Torres-Sanchez said: “Long-term successful implants, the ones that promote faster healing, without setbacks such as loosening or infections, without second surgeries, are a good idea: for the NHS, for the patient, for society.

“The patient can return to normal life more quickly, lighten the burden on hospitals, physiotherapy and caregivers and contribute to a healthier, happier and more active life.

“We engineers can help by providing designs and scaffolding that promote healing and help accelerate patient recovery, including mental health support.

“We continue to research and refine the designs so that we can find later evolutions of these multifunctional scaffolds that are even more attractive to the cells.”

Abhishek Maheswari
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