A discovery made by plastics research centre Andaltec, in Spain, has the potential to impact both prosthesis and implant production, as well as open the door to new advances in tissue engineering.
Scientists at the centre have developed a material which can potentially regenerate muscle tissues based on polymers with shape memory properties and graphene derivatives. The materials, created within the scope of the PoliM3D project, consist of a series of advanced biocompatible polymers with shape memory properties for biomedical applications employing 3D printing technology and feature properties making them suitable for the manufacture of customised implants, prostheses and surgical tools.
The materials have also been found to offer great potential to regenerate muscle tissues. This discovery is one of the most important to emerge from the PoliM3D R&D project, which has been running since 2019.
The project, funded by the R&D scheme directed to private entities of the department for Economy, Business and University of the Andalusian government, sought to develop and characterise new polymeric materials which could be easily processed by means of FDM printing technology.
Based on shape memory property polymers, the materials have shown themselves able to assimilate into the host environment with a defined geometry and to adapt to this environment when thermally activated. The researchers then, working in collaboration with another group at the at University of Jaén, also functionalised the newly developed materials with chemically-modified graphene derivatives. This was done to improve the properties of the plastic matrix and to boost both adherence and cell growth.
The team at Andaltec identified the optimal formulation and carried out a series of mechanical, physicochemical lab tests after which the materials were biologically validated by a research group led by professor Amelia Aránega at the University of Jaén, in tests performed on myoblast cell lines.
These tests showed that the polymer was biocompatible with this type of cells and confirmed that cell growth and adherence occurred.
“We have compared the behaviour of the new material being non-additivated and graphene-additivated, which led to the discovery that cells contract and expand without an external stimulus, thanks to the presence of graphene derivatives. This fact confirms that this polymer could help in 3D tissue regeneration,” said Antonio Peñas, head of the PoliM3D project together with researcher María Dolores Ramírez.
Andaltec technicians also developed 3D printing filaments and optimised the additive manufacturing process, making it possible to manufacture prostheses and implants using the material swiftly and safely. Additive manufacturing and the use of polymers with shape memory properties open up several possibilities in order to offer more affordable and efficient medical treatments, said Peñas, especially when produced in the hospital itself by specialised personnel. The use of 3D printing in the health sector can reduce both the cost and the time needed to start treatments, driving better health outcomes and more rational use of the limited resources available for health systems.