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3D printing enables more personalized plastic surgery

Researchers from IOCB Prague and Ghent University have expanded the potential medical uses of gelatin-based materials that can be easily monitored using an X-ray machine or through computed tomography (CT)

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Researchers from IOCB Prague and Ghent University have expanded the potential medical uses of gelatin-based materials, such as for plastic and reconstructive surgery. In a paper published in ACS Applied Engineering Materials, the researchers presented 3D printable materials that can be easily monitored using an X-ray machine or through computed tomography (CT).

Gelatin-based materials are straightforward to produce, non-toxic, inexpensive, biodegradable, and promote cell growth – after a surgeon places an implant made of such material into a wound, the body gradually breaks it down and replaces it with tissue of its own. These substances accelerate wound healing and even enable the remolding of tissues – for example when performing breast reconstruction after a mastectomy. Now, these materials can be customized to each patient thanks to 3D printing.

Research from IOCB Prague and Ghent University enables more personalized plastic surgery thanks to the 3D printing of gelatin-based materials
Ondřej Groborz, PhD student from Tomáš Slanina Group at IOCB Prague. Photo credit: Tomáš Belloň/IOCB Prague).

Research from IOCB Prague and Ghent University enables more personalized plastic surgery thanks to the 3D printing of gelatin-based materialsHowever, according to the researchers, until now it has been very difficult to track the breakdown of these materials in the body using conventional imaging methods – the very hurdle that the researchers from IOCB Prague are working to overcome. A radiopaque (i.e. X-ray-contrast) agent newly added to the materials makes it possible to trace how quickly implants shrink over time and whether they are intact or damaged.

“A whole series of academic papers is being written on this topic. The first of them introduces a gelatin-based material that can be monitored using magnetic resonance imaging. In our second article, recently published in Applied Engineering Materials, we endow the materials with X-ray and CT detectability,” said Ondřej Groborz, from the Photoredox chemistry group.

This improvement enables the monitoring of these implants over time and the observation and detection of their biodegradation and possible mechanical failures. Based on the data obtained, the biodegradation of implants can be tailored to meet specific clinical requirements, because tissues in the human body grow at different rates, to which the properties of implants need to be adapted. The researcher’s goal is to make these implants biodegrade at the same rate as healthy tissue grows.

Ondřej Groborz cooperates on this research with the Polymer Chemistry & Biomaterials Group (PBM) at Ghent University. The collaboration between IOCB Prague and Ghent University also has the potential to transcend into the commercial world, with the two research institutions already having submitted a joint patent application concerning the use of the described materials in plastic and reconstructive surgery.

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