Ceramic scaffolds produced by computer-assisted 3D printing and sintering: Characterization and biocompatibility investigations

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Warnke, P.H., Seitz, H., Warnke, F., Becker, S.T., Sivananthan, S., Sherry, E., Liu, Q., Wiltfang, J., Douglas, T. (2010). Ceramic scaffolds produced by computer-assisted 3D printing and sintering: Characterization and biocompatibility investigations. Journal of Biomedical Materials Research Part B: Applied Biomaterials, 93B (1), 212-217

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Hydroxyapatite (HAP) and tricalcium phosphate (TCP) are two very common ceramic materials for bone replacement. However, in general HAP and TCP scaffolds are not tailored to the exact dimensions of the defect site and are mainly used as granules or beads. Some scaffolds are available as ordinary blocks, but cannot be customized for individual perfect fit. Using computer-assisted 3D printing, an emerging rapid prototyping technique, individual three-dimensional ceramic scaffolds can be built up from TCP or HAP powder layer by layer with subsequent sintering.

These scaffolds have precise dimensions and highly defined and regular internal characteristics such as pore size. External shape and internal characteristics such as pore size can be fabricated using Computer Assisted Design (CAD) based on individual patient data. Thus, these scaffolds could be designed as perfect fit replacements to reconstruct the patient's skeleton.

Before their use as bone replacement materials in vivo, in vitro testing of these scaffolds is necessary. In this study, the behavior of human osteoblasts on HAP and TCP scaffolds was investigated. The commonly used bone replacement material BioOss® served as control. Biocompatibility was assessed by scanning electron microscopy (SEM), fluorescence microscopy after staining for cell vitality with fluorescin diacetate (FDA) and propidium iodide (PI) and the MTT, LDH, and WST biocompatibility tests.

Both versions were colonised by human osteoblasts, however more cells were seen on HAP scaffolds than TCP scaffolds. Cell vitality staining and MTT, LDH, and WST tests showed superior biocompatibility of HAP scaffolds to BioOss®, while BioOss® was more compatible than TCP.

Further experiments are necessary to determine biocompatibility in vivo. Future modifications of 3D printed scaffolds offer advantageous features for Tissue Engineering. The integration of channels could allow for vascular and nerve ingrowth into the scaffold. Also the complex shapes of convex and concave articulating joint surfaces maybe realized with these rapid prototyping techniques.

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