3D printing will ultimately enable the fabrication of human tissue and implants to restore function when age-related disease causes damage. Researchers first need to develop new bio-inks that can be manipulated during 3D printing to ensure specific implant properties.
Professor Yin Xiao is working with researches and industry partners in Queensland and Shanghai in China to develop, manufacture and validate the next generation of biomaterials and bio-inks.
He is the Queensland leader and centre director of the Joint Research Centre for the Development of Functional Biomaterials in Advanced Manufacturing of Human Tissues and Organs, established late last year with of $300 000 in support from the State Government.
The centre will focus on living tissue replacements to restore the functions of damaged tissues and organs in the treatment of bone and joint disorders including osteoporosis, osteoarthritis and fractures, and soft tissue trauma including wounds.
‘The ultimate goal is to generate mature biomedical products for bone and cartilage repair, skin regeneration and blood vessel reconstruction to fulfil the huge demand in clinical treatment with advanced biofabrication techniques,’ Professor Xiao says.
‘Patients will no longer suffer because there are limited suitable donors—or because they are experiencing organ rejection.
‘Personalised implants with delicate designs will deliver vastly improved treatment through use of high-performance biomedical product options for soft and hard tissue disorders. It will reduce the burden on the healthcare system and increase quality of life for patients.’
Queensland’s older population is expected to grow by 68 per cent in the next 10 years, and about a third of China’s population will be over 60 by 2050.
New materials being developed as part of the centre include bio-ceramic 3D bone grafts, cartilage constructs made using ceramics, polymers and hydrogels, and biomimetic skin and blood vessel grafts.
Biomimetics, also known as biomimicry, is the imitation of models, systems and elements found in nature to solve complex human problems.
Professor Xiao says the research will take inspiration from nature in the development of the biomaterials, such as introducing properties that encourage self-healing when implanted in a human body.
A significant challenge for the researchers is overcoming very narrow ‘fabrication windows’. There is a limit to present 3D printing resolutions, speeds and the ability to reproduce the exact same shapes—known as shape fidelity.
‘We must overcome the limits to improve process outputs and end product quality—an outcome that can only be achieved through the development of functional biomaterials with tailored biological, rheological and biomechanical properties.’
Establishment of the new joint research centre is largely the result of six years of successful collaboration between QUT— specially through Professor Xiao’s Australia-China Centre for Tissue Engineering and Regenerative Medicine—and Shanghai researchers. They include researchers from East China University of Science and Technology and Shanghai Institute of Ceramics–Chinese Academy of Sciences. Researchers from The University of Queensland are also part of the centre.
A number of Queensland-based and Chinese biotechnology companies are involved in the development and potential commercialisation of the products stemming from the centre’s research.
The world market for biomaterials is expected to almost double by 2024 to $308 billion.
Professor Yin Xiao