Legos aren’t just for kids. Medical researchers have used 3D-printed, flea-sized, Lego-inspired bricks to repair bone and soft tissue. The technique might one day lead to lab-made organs for transplants in humans, scientists associated with the project said.
According to the study, published in Advanced Materials on July 23, the small, hollow bricks can serve as scaffolding for the growth of hard or soft tissue.
“Our patent-pending scaffolding is easy to use; it can be stacked together like Legos and placed in thousands of different configurations to match the complexity and size of almost any situation,” said lead researcher Luiz Bertassoni.
Orthopedic surgeons repair complex bone fractures by implanting metal rods or plates and inserting materials packed with powders or pastes to promote healing. But doctors could fill the hollow bricks of the new scaffolding structure with gels containing specific growth factors placed closest to where they are needed to speed recovery.
“The 3D-printed microcage technology improves healing by stimulating the right type of cells to grow in the right place, and at the right time,” researcher Ramesh Subbiah said. In a study on rats, the use of blocks filled with growth factor resulted in about three times more blood vessel growth than conventional repair methods.
Doctors can assemble the bricks to fit almost any space. The researchers said doctors could use the technology for spinal fusion surgeries, to heal bones cut out as cancer treatment, and to build up weakened jawbones before a dental implant. —J.B.