'New tailor-made biopolymers produced from lignocellulosic sugars waste for highly demanding fire-resistant applications'

Biodegradable 3D Printing Materials, Bone Fractures and the $6 Million Man!

Rib cage, spinal column and vertebrae manufactured by 3D printing (Courtesy: Evonik's Corp, www.evonik.com)

For five seasons from 1974 to 1978 a series called The Six Million Dollar Man aired on the television.  It featured the ruggedly handsome NASA astronaut Colonel Steve Austin (Lee Majors) who was severely injured in the crash of an experimental lifting body aircraft.  Austin was “rebuilt” in an operation that cost six million dollars.  Now, that was quite a sum forty years ago.

His right arm, both legs and the left eye were replaced with “bionic” implants that enhanced his strength, speed and vision far above human norms: he could run at speeds approaching 100 km/h, and his eye had a 20:1 zoom lens and infrared capabilities, while his bionic limbs all had the equivalent power of a bulldozer. He used his enhanced abilities to work, of course, as a secret agent for the US Office of Scientific Intelligence (imaginary office).

Alas, forty years has not been long enough to get us quite there in the real world. The good news is mankind is making progress in repairing fractures and osteological problems using novel devices and implants.  We will have virtually no chance of approaching Colonel Austin's strength and speed but may well heal from a nasty bone fracture even avoiding amputation.  (Never mind a career as a secret agent!)

The process of healing from fractures is usually slow, painful and varies based on the severity of the fracture. Sometimes, all that is needed is a cast or brace; however, more severe fractures can require surgery and the implantation of metal devices such as plates, screws, and rods to stabilize the bone while it mends. According to researchers at the University of Pittsburgh, traditional bone implants are composed of metals such as stainless steel, titanium, or PEEK, a polymer material that is non degradable, and remain in the body unless surgically removed. These metal implants are strong and resilient, but can result in further complications such as infection (Source ).

There are exciting advances in the use of biodegradable materials for bone repair purposes. The choice between using degradable and non-degradable devices for orthopedic and oral surgeries must be carefully weighed. Traditional biodegradable devices for osteosynthesis have been successful in low or mild load bearing applications. However, continuing research and recent developments in the field of material science has resulted in development of biomaterials with improved strength and mechanical properties. Options using biodegradable materials, including polymers, ceramics and magnesium alloys have attracted a great deal of attention for osteologic app

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» Publication Date: 22/12/2016

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This project has received funding from the European Unionís Seventh Framework Programme for research, technological development and demonstration