Repair of relatively large bone defects has been a consistent challenge over the years and is expected to remain an issue with increased life-expectancy leading to additional required transplants every year.
Currently, over 2.2 million bone grafts are used annually worldwide, making bone the second most transplanted tissue after bone. Researchers are therefore in a constant search for improved implants, called scaffolds, to promote bone healing. Scaffolds are porous structures that mimic the spongy component of natural bone and are designed to provide a surface upon which fresh bone tissue can regenerate.
Over the past couple of years, members from the Faculty of Engineering and the Faculty of Medicine and Surgery of the University of Malta have been working in collaboration with orthopaedic resident surgeons at Mater Dei Hospital on the development of an improved biodegradable metallic scaffold in the BioSA (Biodegradable Iron for Orthopaedic Scaffold Applications) project.
Led by Prof. Ing. Joseph Buhagiar from the Department of Metallurgy and Materials Engineering, a team of researchers have been working together on developing a process for customisable metallic foams and to test materials of interest.
Over the past year, the BioSA team has made significant leaps in the development of an innovative process that provides several advantages over other processes currently being used. Through the combination of multiple existent technologies including high-energy ball milling, 3D-printing and powder sintering, the researchers working on the project have proposed a cost-effective way of producing biodegradable iron-based scaffolds with customisable features that could be further developed to fit unique defects for specific patients, rather than the current one-size-fits-all approach.
In their latest milestone, the BioSA team members together with the University of Malta Knowledge Transfer Office have successfully filed an initial patent application to-protect the developed process with the use of funds from the Malta Council for Science and Technology which is financing the project through FUSION: R&I Technical Development Program (R&I-2017-037T).