3D-printed, synthetic bone to be developed for landmine blast survivors

Synthetically grown ‘off the shelf’ bone should soon be a reality for landmine blast survivors thanks to a new £2.8 million regenerative medicine project at the University of Glasgow, funded by Sir Bobby Charlton’s charity Find A Better Way.

Sir Bobby, project leader Professor Manuel Salmeron-Sanchez, deputy project leader Professor Matt Dalby, University of Glasgow Vice-Principal Professor Jon Cooper and Find A Better Way CEO Lou McGrath OBE were present for a signing ceremony at Booth’s Hall in Knutsford on Friday 16 December at noon, officially launching the funding of the new project.Find a Better Way

An estimated 4,300 people are injured or killed by landmine blasts every year, a fact which first inspired Sir Bobby to set up Find A Better Way in 2011 to pursue his dream of a landmine-free world.

In dozens of countries where armed conflict ceased decades ago, the victims are overwhelmingly innocent civilians, and frequently children. As modern landmines are designed to maim rather than kill, this results in a constant demand for reconstructive blast injury surgery. The amount of reconstruction possible is often limited by the amount of bone that can be saved from the injury. Bone regrowth is theoretically possible with current medical technology using a type of protein known as a ‘growth factor,’ but has never been successfully trialed without serious complications or side effects. The Find A Better Way funded project at the University of Glasgow is designed to solve this problem.

The University of Glasgow team use a 3D printer to create bone scaffolds. These scaffolds are then coated with nanolayers of a growth factor known as BMP-2 and stem cells. They are then placed into a specially designed machine known as a ‘Nanokick,’ invented by Prof. Matt Dalby, which shakes the bone scaffold 15 nanometers, 1,000 times per second. This further stimulates the stem cells and growth factor to interact and start growing bone tissue on the scaffold at an accelerated rate.

When completed, it will be possible within 3-4 days to create bespoke bone pieces to fit the needs of individual patients.  Once implanted in the body, bone tissue will continue to grow, replacing the scaffold which, as it dissolves, leaves only new bone behind.

Parallel to this, the University of Glasgow team will also be developing small blocks of ‘off the shelf’ synthetic bone that can be shipped to anywhere in the world for a local surgeon to cut and shape to a patient’s need.

This product will be created using the same process, but using shapes and sizes that are likely to fit common blast injury needs. Specially designed packaging is being designed that will keep the bone tissue viable for two to three weeks depending on local conditions.

Although the project will initially concentrate on smaller pieces of bone, there is no theoretical limit to how much synthetic bone can grafted into a blast injury survivor. If successful the new technology will vastly extend the available options for blast injury surgeons, making it easier to reconstruct limbs, repair skull injuries and more.

Following the signing of the funding agreement on 16 December, the project will begin work on 1 January 2017. It is projected to conduct a ‘first man’ study within five years.

Find A Better Way CEO Lou McGrath OBE said: “It is hard to overestimate what an important breakthrough this could be for landmine blast survivors. Advances in reconstructive surgical techniques now encourage trauma surgeons to retain as much of a limb as possible instead of quickly amputating above the knee. In many cases, the amount of bone that can be recovered is a limiting factor in how much of a leg or arm can be salvaged. With the developments from this project, we could reach a situation where it is only the limitations of surgical techniques, not the amount of viable tissue remaining, that determines the outcome.”

Project lead Professor Manuel Salmeron-Sanchez from the University of Glasgow said: “We have been developing various types of bone-related technology at the University of Glasgow for the previous five years. Thanks to the support of Find a Better Way we can improve and combine these technologies for use in extreme situations where a significant amount of bone is needed urgently. With our interdisciplinary team of bioengineers, biologists and surgeons and the financial support of Find a Better Way we expect efficient progress towards the generation of bone, and we look forward to landmine blast survivors of the future having and improved quality of life.”

Media enquiries: ross.barker@glasgow.ac.uk / 0141 330 8593

First published: 16 December 2016